Earlier today, Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lisa Farbstein sent the following tweet from her verified account:
The photo, from the Richmond airport, shows a passenger’s luggage containing $75,000 in cash. Farbstein asks, “Is this how you’d transport it?” Most people would not, but there is nothing illegal about simply checking a bag containing $75,000, or carrying it with you on the plane. Passengers aren’t under any obligation to report large sums of cash unless they’re traveling internationally, though the TSA recommends that passengers consider asking for a private screening.
Asked about the incident via e-mail, Farbstein said that “the carry-on bag of the passenger alarmed because of the large unknown bulk in his carry-on bag. When TSA officers opened the bag to determine what had caused the alarm, the money was sitting inside. Quite unusual. TSA alerted the airport police, who were investigating.” Farbstein didn’t respond to a question about whether posting photos of the man’s luggage and property violated his privacy, nor did she offer any more details on the situation.
So what happened?
In this case, the cash was seized by a federal agency, most likely the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to Richmond airport spokesman Troy Bell. “I don’t believe the person was issued a summons or a citation,” he said. “The traveler was allowed to continue on his way.”
If true, that would make this incident just the latest case of civil asset forfeiture at the nation’s major transportation hubs. In recent months several high-profile stories have surfaced of passengers who had large sums of cash seized by the DEA, including a young man at an Amtrak stop, a college student at the Cincinnati airport, and a nail salon owner in New York. While the DEA took the cash in these cases under suspicion of its involvement in drug trafficking, no drug charges been filed in any of the cases.
When traveling in your own country, every American is now presumed suspicious. The Bush administration’s wrong-headed and misdirected reaction to 9/11 is to its everlasting shame.