TSA watchdog opens probe into allegation of racial profiling

A sign directs travelers to a security checkpoint staffed by Transportation Security Administration workers at O'Hare Airport in Chicago on June 2, 2015.

Story highlights

  • Andrew Rhoades testified before a House panel that he was told to profile Somali-Americans
  • Minneapolis has one of the nation's largest Somali populations

(CNN)The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security has opened an investigation into an allegation by a Transportation Security Administration official that he was instructed to racially profile Somali-Americans.

The DHS Office of Inspector General announced the investigation in a short statement on Thursday. It did not provide further details.
    Andrew Rhoades, the current TSA assistant federal security director at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, testified before the House Oversight Committee last week that he was told by his superior to profile Somali-Americans.
    Minneapolis has one of the nation's largest Somali populations. At the Minneapolis TSA administrative office, Rhoades said he often assists Somali travelers having difficulties traveling by directing them to apply to the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry program. The program is for individuals who have questions or need help resolving difficulties they experienced during their travel screening at transportation hubs -- such as airports and train stations -- or crossing U.S. borders.
    "Not only does the TSA mistreat its employees, it alienates entire communities," Rhoades testified. "On April 8, 2016, my supervisors asked me profile Somali imams and other Somali community members. I refused."
    Rhoades said in his mid-year review his TSA supervisor gave him very specific instructions: "With our current world affairs that we need to be mindful of, those we interact with and advised that employee should check with the field intelligence officer on potential visitors to determine if we want them in our office space or meet elsewhere."
    Rhoades said it is not protocol to vet visitors to the TSA administrative office against "TSA watchlists or with intelligence officers." Rhoades said he was asked to do this only for the Somali community without any evidence of a terror link.
    "It's profiling," Rhoades said.
    The TSA said in a statement at the time that it "does not tolerate racial profiling."
    "TSA takes allegations of racial profiling seriously," the statement read. "We are reviewing this complaint and will take appropriate action if there is evidence that any TSA officer acted inappropriately."
    In 2013, the TSA reviewed and revised all training documents to emphasize that unlawful profiling violates agency policy and anti-discrimination laws are ineffective as a security tool because terrorism has no "typical" face, race, nationality, ethnicity or gender.
    Regarding this latest allegation, the TSA added, "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."