Chaffetz airport tiff: Harassment of lawmaker, or obnoxious congressman?

By Thomas Burr

The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake Tribune
Updated:09/25/2009 10:13:06 AM MDT


Washington » The Transportation Security Administration says it is reviewing an incident at Salt Lake City International Airport involving Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The Republican lawmaker questions whether he was singled out for additional screening because of his vote against unionizing TSA officers.

Chaffetz, who also has sponsored legislation to ban whole-body imaging machines because he says they are invasive, charges that TSA agents Monday tried to force him to use one of those body scan machines. When he refused, he was sent through a standard metal detector.

Then, the Republican congressman says, he was told he was randomly selected for a pat-down search and he says he then had a confrontation with a TSA supervisor who wouldn't identify himself or give him his badge number.

Chaffetz - who says he only identified himself as a congressman after clearing security and when the supervisor would not give his name -- acknowledges he touched the agent's identification badge but says that he didn't do it in a threatening way.

"Did I touch the officer? Was I obnoxious? Absolutely not," he said.

Chaffetz was not detained after the incident and made his plane to Washington. No incident report was filed with regard to the event.

TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird said Thursday that the incident is being reviewed and that his agency will respond directly to the Chaffetz if he has further concerns.

Video of the incident was being shipped to Washington and was not made available to reporters.

"TSA's job is to keep the traveling public safe and using advanced imaging technology is an important tool to mitigate known threats," Baird said in a written statement. "This safe screening option is always 100 percent optional to all passengers."

Passengers who decline body image screening will use the walk-through metal detector and undergo a pat-down procedure, Baird added.

Baird declined further comment, but Chaffetz's description of the event closely mirrors the policy Baird outlined.

Chaffetz said Thursday afternoon that he was putting in a call to TSA after waiting three days for someone to call him back.

The freshman congressman pushed legislation through the House earlier this year that would ban the use of the body image machines as a primary screening option because he says they allow government officials to peer through passengers' clothes and there are not enough safeguards to prove the images won't be copied or saved.

The legislation has yet to have a hearing in the Senate.

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