No fracas shown in TSA video

Published: Sunday, Oct. 18 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Partial, edited surveillance video of the run-in between Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and security at Salt Lake City International Airport shows only tame and rather civilized exchanges between the two.

Chaffetz says that vindicates him of allegations that he was obnoxious and created a confrontation to draw attention to "strip search" machines there, although the video stops or cuts away at points when the confrontation supposedly became most heated.

"I don't think there should be any remaining questions," Chaffetz told the Deseret News on Saturday. "It shows things were very benign."

The Transportation Security Administration posted what appears to be only a partial surveillance video of the incident on its Web site and notified the media by e-mail about it late Friday night.

Earlier in the week, the TSA had denied "expedited treatment" of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Deseret News for that video.

The newspaper appealed. The video was then posted on the TSA's "electronic reading room." The TSA said it posted it there instead of sending it to the Deseret News because many media had requested it.

The TSA did not answer phone calls Saturday, so it could not immediately address why the video seemed to stop just at points where the confrontation may have been most interesting.

In the first scene, the video shows Chaffetz — in jeans and a polo shirt — walking across the screening area to the far side. The second short scene shows him in line waiting to go through screening, and placing luggage on conveyer belts for X-raying.

"It shows I am in line No. 1 for a regular screening machine, and not in line No. 2 for the whole-body imaging machine," Chaffetz said.

The union representing the TSA has said that Chaffetz went directly to a line for what he calls a "strip search" machine and then made a scene by refusing to go through it.

However, Chaffetz has said he was pulled out of a regular line, told to go through the "strip search" machine and refused. He said he was then allowed to go through a regular line, but was told he was chosen "at random" for a pat-down search. TSA rules call for a pat-down search anytime someone in line for the whole-body imaging machine refuses to go through it.

The video does not show Chaffetz being pulled out of line or the confrontation that all sides say occurred when he refused to go through that machine.

Chaffetz has contended the TSA harassed him both because he had just voted against letting the TSA unionize, and because he has been fighting the use of "strip search" machines in Congress.

While the video skips the confrontation at the screening machine, it next shows Chaffetz going through a "pat-down" search — with portions of it blurred, the TSA said in an e-mail, on purpose "because of security and privacy concerns."

It appears to show Chaffetz asking to talk to a supervisor in charge (as he previously said he did), and then sitting and waiting for several minutes.

It then shows him walking away and approaching a man, whom Chaffetz said had identified himself as one of many supervisors.

It shows that Chaffetz handed him his card identifying him as a congressman, and the supervisor quickly but gently set it down. The video does not show the faces of either Chaffetz or the supervisor so their expressions cannot be seen.

Previously, Chaffetz said he was asking the man to give the overall supervisor his card so he could call him. Chaffetz said, "He said, 'No, I refuse to take your card.' I said, 'Refuse to take my card? Why won't you take my card?' "

He said the man responded, "Well, we know who you are" — which is when Chaffetz said he figured they harassed him because they recognized him as a congressman.

Chaffetz said when he walked away, the officer started laughing, so Chaffetz returned and said, "You can laugh about this, but I am serious."

The video does not show whether the supervisor laughed (it does not show his head), but it shows Chaffetz returning and gesturing strongly. The video ends as Chaffetz reaches for a pen.

All sides have said that Chaffetz asked for the man's name and badge number. Chaffetz has said he reached out to touch his ID badge when it was "thrust" into his face, and then told not to touch it or the supervisor. The video ends before that is shown.

"The video defends me against most the accusations made against me," Chaffetz said. "I did not go myself into the line for the whole-body imaging machine. … It's pretty clear I did not throw my card at the man like some have said."

He added, "I hope we can move on now to bigger issues."

The TSA has yet to produce written reports and observations of the incident made by TSA employees, as requested by the Deseret News. The newspaper also plans to push for portions of the video that may be missing.

The video is available www.tsa.gov/research/reading/index.shtm — with the video appearing near the bottom of that Web page.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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