Sen. Rand Paul: TSA pat-downs represent disservice to liberty

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) refused a pat-down from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Monday, touching off a back-and-forth over the controversial agency’s airport security techniques.

Paul, who has been critical of TSA in the past, said security officials at Nashville International Airport made him miss a flight to Washington on Monday morning after he refused to agree to a hand search.

{mosads}The freshman senator said during an interview with a Kentucky radio station that he offered to go back through an X-ray machine after security officials said an item on his leg triggered alarms. But he said was told, “No, you must do as you’re told or you’re going to miss your flight.”

Paul refused the pat-down, exited the security area, booked a later flight to Washington and returned to the security area, where he went through the X-ray machines without incident. He noted he flies through that airport at least once a week and had been allowed to go back through the X-ray machines on previous occasions when he set off an alarm.

He said that security at airports was necessary, but TSA’s pat-downs went too far.

“We need security and everybody should go through some,” he said during an interview with Lexington, Ky., radio host Leland Conway. “But I think there’s a breaking point where we’re invading people’s privacy and we’re invading their dignity.

“The pat-down is not [catching] anybody, and I think it’s a disservice to our liberty,” he said.

Sen. Paul’s father, Republican presidential candidate and Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R), agreed Monday. The elder Paul said that the TSA incident pointed to a “police state,” and he reiterated his call for eliminating the agency.

“The police state in this country is growing out of control,” Rep. Paul, who confirmed the incident Monday morning on his Twitter page, said in a statement released by his presidential campaign.

“One of the ultimate embodiments of this is the TSA that gropes and grabs our children, our seniors and our loved ones and neighbors with disabilities,” he continued. “The TSA does all of this while doing nothing to keep us safe. That is why my ‘Plan to Restore America,’ in addition to cutting $1 trillion in federal spending in one year, eliminates the TSA.”

TSA defended its treatment of Sen. Paul, saying that its employees in Nashville followed normal procedure with the senator, who has often sharply criticized the agency’s pat-downs.

“When an irregularity is found during the TSA screening process, it must be resolved prior to allowing a passenger to proceed to the secure area of the airport,” the agency said in a written statement. “Passengers who refuse to complete the screening process cannot be granted access to the secure area in order to ensure the safety of others traveling.”

Original reports said the senator was detained. Rep. Paul tweeted that early Monday morning, writing: “My son @SenRandPaul being detained by TSA for refusing full body pat-down after anomaly in body scanner in Nashville.”

But U.S. security officials denied that Sen. Paul was held by the agency. Instead, they said, the senator was escorted out of the security area following his refusal to accept a pat-down.

TSA’s statement noted that “the passenger,” Paul, was “rebooked on another flight and was rescreened without incident.”

Both Pauls have been vocal critics of the TSA, calling for the controversial agency to be disbanded.

“This kind of gets back to this whole idea of what we are willing to … give up as a country,” Sen. Paul said of pat-downs last summer during a hearing in which TSA Administrator John Pistole appeared before lawmakers.

“Ninety-five-year-old women humiliated, children molested, disabled people abused,” Rep. Paul said of TSA last summer, during one of his weekly “Texas Straight Talk” audio addresses. “Men and women subjected to unwarranted groping and touching of their most private areas, and involuntary radiation exposure.

“If the perpetrators were a gang of criminals, their headquarters would be raided by SWAT teams and armed federal agents,” Rep. Paul continued. “Unfortunately, in this case, the perpetrators are armed federal agents.”

On Monday, Sen. Paul said that he did not take issue with his treatment by TSA owing to his status as a member of Congress.

“I don’t want any special treatment,” he said during the interview with the Kentucky radio station. “I won’t introduce any legislation to make me get special treatment [as a senator].

“But I would like to see everyone have the ability to go back through the screener,” he said.

Rep. Paul agreed there needed to be changes, saying that as a presidential aspirant he was “deeply committed” to restoring “the freedom and respect for liberty that once made America the greatest nation in human history.” The Texas lawmaker is one of the four remaining candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

However, the White House defended TSA in the standoff with the Kentucky senator.

“I think it is absolutely essential that we take necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

— Posted at 4:07 p.m. and updated at 8:27 p.m.

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