In the past week I was contacted by two travelers who encountered similar TSA incidents of being questioned regarding flying with cash at two different airports, headed to two different destinations.
The first email came from Karen Phillips, who was flying from New York’s JFK International Airport (JFK) to Las Vegas (LAS) for a long weekend bachelorette celebration. Karen wrote that she was pulled aside by a TSA Transportation Security Officer (TSO) and assumed it was due to her leaving her iPad in her bag. Rather than having her iPad removed the TSA TSO pulled out her bank envelope with US$6,000 in cash in it and proceeded to question why she was traveling with “such an extravagant amount of money.”
The second email comes from a doctor, who requested his name not be used, who is part of volunteer medical organization that brings medial aid to rural area in Central and South America. The doctor states that he passed through security and upon a search of his bag was questioned about traveling with US$25,000 in cash … despite producing a US Treasury FinCEN Form 105, that legally declares the currency he was traveling internationally with in excess of US$10,000.
Incidents where people are questioned by the TSA about traveling with cash, of any amount, are troubling for a number of reasons. The primary reasons for the TSA questioning passengers about cash are problematic in that TSA TSOs are not law enforcement and that cash is not a danger to travel or the “movement for people and commerce.”
People fly with cash for many reasons, not to mention that possessing legal currency from any nation is not illegal. But lets go back to the two readers who emailed regarding this incidents.
In Karen’s case, she says she was questioned for between three and five minutes regarding her traveling with US$6,000 in cash. Karen claims that once she explained that she was traveling with cash because she didn’t want to exceed the budget she and her husband agreed upon for the long bachelorette weekend in Las Vegas the TSO called their Supervisor who asked her similar questions. She says she felt intimidated having to explain that US$6,000 was not “such an extravagant amount of money” for her and that she didn’t like having to explain her personal business to the TSA.
First off for Karen, the TSA should not be shocked that people may be flying to Las Vegas with larger than average sums of cash in their possession. Secondly, the US Treasury only requires the reporting of traveling with an amount in excess of US$10,000 and only when that travel is internationally. Thirdly, the TSA should not be questioning people about where they may have gotten their money from, it is none of their business if someone has money or not.
For The Doctor, I can understand why the TSA may question a large amount of cash flying between Miami and Central America, but once The Doctor produced a US Treasury FinCEN Form 105 declaring that he was leaving the country with the cash, the questioning should have stopped. Should the TSA have felt The Doctor, who says he was questioned for around 10 minutes, was engaged in illegal activities they should have contacted law enforcement to question The Doctor. Yes, Miami is a primary airport for those engaged in less-than-legal activities, but generally those engaged in smuggling and illegal actives don’t file the proper paperwork with the US Treasury.
The Transportation Security Administration is not a law enforcement agency and its Transportation Security Officers are not engaged in investigating services. The TSA’s front line is not trained in the legalities of investigations or the collection of evidence; this must be handled by law enforcement.
The TSA has repeatedly engaged in mission creep, in an effort to further its role in Homeland Security, but in the process fails at an unacceptable rate when it comes to their core mission of securing the safety and security of commercial aviation security.
The TSA should refer back to its Mission Statement “The Transportation Security Administration protects the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”
If the agency believes there is some wiggle room in their Mission Statement to question passengers about cash, the TSA should refer back to their 2009 policy adjustment that states “screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security” and “traveling with large amounts of currency is not illegal.”
Questioning travelers about their cash, an issue that has come up time and time again as exceeding the agencies role and authority, is in fact impeding the “freedom of movement for people and commerce.”