The Transportation Security Administration is getting an earful from angry Americans after the agency’s spokeswoman tweeted a photo of the contents of a traveler’s suitcase – $75,000 in cash – for all the world to see on Tuesday.
“If you had $75,000, is this how you’d transport it? Just asking! TSA @ RIC spotted this traveler’s preferred method,” tweeted Lisa Farbstein, TSA spokeswoman at headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
The public reaction was fierce and included some of the following comments:
- So … taxpayers are paying you to tweet photos of their luggage?
- What other perfectly legal possessions should air travelers worry TSA might photograph and post to social media?
- Fantastic. Give someone a chance to rob said traveler.
- Gee, it’s a total mystery why so many people distrust TSA and think you overstep boundaries.
- Thanks for the pic. Thieves at the next airport appreciate the info.
- Were you asked to publicly post this person’s private property to social media or did you decide to post on your own?
- Did you receive this passenger’s permission to photograph their belongings and tweet it out? This is grotesque.
- That’s awesome. Next will you post public pics of someone’s meds? You should be fired.
- Is this what y’all do on the clock? Post pics of travelers’ personal belongings on twitter?
- Now that the public knows the exact design, color and size of this bag and also its contents, how is this traveler safer?
- So the TSA is just outright fu–ing with people and bragging about it.
- What other photos get taken of the property of people who violate no rule or law? How long are the photos preserved?
- Shame on you. What a disgrace.
- And you wonder why nobody trusts you people.
- Wow. Way to breach privacy. No wonder no one respects TSA.
- Were they planning on using that to bring down a plane? Why are you showing people’s personal belongings? Oh yeah, you suck.
- What the hell is wrong with you? Besides being a government busybody. None of your damn business & none of social medias’!
One Twitter user asked Farbstein about the government approved way to transport legally earned cash so it wouldn’t be seized by TSA.
Farbstein responded, “TSA didn’t seize/confiscate/take it. It alarmed the x-ray machine as an unknown and we spotted it. It’s just a curiosity.”
The photo was taken at the Richmond, Virginia, airport. Farbstein confirmed that the contents were “not on the prohibited items list.”
After the Washington Free Beacon published a story on the incident, Farbstein emailed the following statement to the paper:
“TSA officers routinely come across evidence of criminal activity at airport checkpoints. Examples include evidence of illegal drug trafficking, money laundering, and violations of currency reporting requirements prior to international trips. TSA turned this bag over to law enforcement, which is investigating.”
It wasn’t clear whether the passenger was traveling domestically or internationally. TSA guidelines state, “For international flights, you must report the transport of $10,000.00 USD or more to the U.S. Customs Service.”
A 2013 TSA press release says Farbstein is “part of an external media team that works to place positive stories in the media with a focus on the agency’s counterterrorism mission.”
The release quotes Farbstein:
“What I do matters because when I explain what we do and that we know the majority of travelers present no threat, reporters often are surprised at how advanced TSA is and they are absolutely amazed to hear about the good catches our Officers make every day across the country.”
A 2009 TSA blog post addressed the issue of passengers carrying large sums of cash in their luggage:
Sometimes a TSA officer may ask a passenger who is carrying a large sum of cash to account for the money. You have asked why such a question is posed and whether a passenger is required to answer.
In reacting to potential security problems or signs of criminal activity, TSA officers are trained to ask questions and assess passenger reactions, including whether a passenger appears to be cooperative and forthcoming in responding.
TSA officers routinely come across evidence of criminal activity at the airport checkpoint. Examples include evidence of illegal drug trafficking, money laundering, and violations of currency reporting requirements prior to international trips.
When presented with a passenger carrying a large sum of money through the screening checkpoint, the TSA officer will frequently engage in dialog with the passenger to determine whether a referral to law-enforcement authorities is warranted.
The TSA officer may consider all circumstances in making the assessment, including the behavior and credibility of the passenger. Thus, a failure to be forthcoming may inform a TSA officer’s decision to call law-enforcement authorities.
According to the Washington Post, Richmond airport spokesman Troy Bell said the traveler’s cash was seized by a federal agency.
“I don’t believe the person was issued a summons or a citation,” he said. “The traveler was allowed to continue on his way.”