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Interview with Senator Rand Paul

Interview with Senator Rand Paul

By The Situation Room - January 23, 2012

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky set often an alarm at an airport body scanner today, and then had to leave the security checkpoint when he refused a pat-down. Both sides seem to agree on that much, but there's a bit of a history between the senator and the TSA.

And his father, the Republican presidential candidate, Congressman Ron Paul, is furious about all of this.

Senator Rand Paul is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

I know you caught a later flight and you just got to Washington. Appreciate the hustle getting to our location up on Capitol Hill. So walk us through, Senator. What happened today when you showed up at the airport?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You know, I have been flying pretty frequently for the past year since I was elected, and really have not had any trouble with the TSA.

Most of the local people have been friendly, if not outright supportive. But, today, I went through the scanner, and it went off, and I just requested that I either show them my leg, which I did, or that I get to go back through the scanner again. But they wouldn't let me go through the scanner. They insisted on a pat-down search.

And I just didn't think that that was appropriate. I thought that, really, when I interviewed Director Pistole of the TSA a couple of months ago, he talked about that we were going to let people go back through the screener so they didn't have to get pat-downs.

But the other thing I learned today is, the screener is not going off because it detects something. The screener is part of a random pat-down process, where people are getting randomly pat-down, but they think the screener is going off because it detected something. And I didn't realize that until today, because the screener goes off one time, and they finally let me go through it an hour later, and then the screener doesn't go off. That's because I must have been part of a random pat-down, but wasn't told that initially.

BLITZER: Because we checked, because you had mentioned that earlier.

We went to the TSA and we asked them, are there now random alerts that simply go off without any evidence that there's a problem? And they issued a statement saying no, because we said, can the TSA trigger the machine to indicate there's an alarm? No. And then the other question was, do the machines have alarms that randomly go off to indicate that there is an object on a person when there is no object on a person? The TSA insists the answer is no.

Who says that there's this random alert?

PAUL: Here's the interesting thing. Two people from the TSA, two separate people -- and I don't want to name their names right at this point. But two separate people told me that there are random bells and whistles going off in the screening process that the local screeners are not aware of, but are part of random pat-downs.

They admit that there are random pat-downs, but I believe the random pat-downs are coming from the machine. Otherwise, we have got machines that just aren't very good, because why are they setting off a signal one time and then not setting off the signal the next time?

So it tells me that either the machines are inadequate or they're not telling us the whole story. But my understanding from two different TSA agents is that, yes, there are random bells going off in the screening machines that don't indicate something on your body, but indicate you have been selected for a random pat-down.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers, Senator, some video of exactly what happens at these body image scanners. You see people waiting in line over there. And then, as they go through, they obviously have to raise their hands and they have to stay still for a few seconds.

And we will continue showing the video. But what's the big deal, Senator, about then going through a pat-down, letting somebody touch the back of your leg to make sure there's nothing there?

PAUL: I think that, you know, we have seen a lot of instances of very invasive searches, an 88-year-old woman being asked to take an adult diaper off, terminally ill people being put through invasive body searches, 6-year-old girls having TSA agents put their hands inside their pants, 8-month-old babies having their diapers taken off.

I say, is it too much to ask to have a little dignity when you travel, and shouldn't an adult be allowed to get back in line and go through the scanner? I think that's not too much to ask. And I think we have gone overboard.

I don't feel more safe. I feel that our dignity is being compromised, but I don't feel more safe. I would rather see selective risk assessments done on people who are international travel, people who have ties to groups that may be terrorists. But the regular, ordinary citizens don't need to be put through this, particularly the frequent travelers.

BLITZER: I remember -- and we have the clip -- when you were questioning the head of the TSA in a Senate Homeland Security Committee Aviation Security Subcommittee back in November. I'm going to play a little clip of what you said then. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: Well, 99.9 percent of us are not terrorists. Let us go back to the machine rather than get a pat-down. You will get rid of a lot of the anger and animosity towards the TSA and towards what you're doing, and give us a little more dignity when we travel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Obviously, this has been on your mind for a long time. This is not a new occurrence that just came out of the blue today.

PAUL: Well, I spoke with secretary -- or Director Pistole today. And I asked him for a couple of things.

One, let adults go back through the scanner if they choose to do that, vs. an invasive body search. Or give someone discretion. In the Nashville Airport today, no one had the discretion to say, 'Oh, hello, there. I have seen you four times. I see you come through here every week.'

And I'm not asking for special privileges because of the office I hold. I would expect the same thing for any frequent traveler or any regular person. If Wolf Blitzer came through, Wolf Blitzer, where are you going? I'm going back to CNN in Atlanta. I have to be on the air tonight.

That would probably be enough for me not to have to do a full body pat-down if you wanted to step back through the screener. So I think we ought to use some common sense and not really think that everybody is a terrorist.

BLITZER: What did Mr. Pistole say to you?

PAUL: He indicates that there are a lot of programs that are out there, that they're trying to make it better.

And I don't attribute bad motivation to him. I think he probably is trying. But my point back to him is, after 10 years, why is there not a frequent flyer program? Why is there not a trusted traveler program? Why -- for example, my brother-in-law went to the Air Force Academy and he's on three planes a week.

Why is he still going through invasive searches? Why couldn't he submit to a background check and not have to go through all these invasive searches? I think and would contend that we're wasting time on people who are not the enemy, and, meanwhile, the enemy could be slipping through, because they spent an hour-and-a-half with me. And you know what they did in the end? They let me walk back through the screener, and the screener didn't show anything the second time, which makes me suspicious that they are doing random searches based on artificially allowing the machine to go off.

BLITZER: Yes, I agree with you there. There should be a trusted traveler program in place.

They have six pilot programs -- we did check -- at certain terminals, not at all the terminals, in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

But I guess the question is what's taking so long to have this done nationwide?

PAUL: The only thing I can imagine is government doesn't do many things very well. But it also might be a reason why that security would have been better had we privatized it and sent it out to private agencies. I would also feel more comfortable giving my private information to a private security firm, because I think they do a little better job with not losing their laptop computers and not letting my information get out on the Web.

So I think, really, privatization would have been a better route to go. There still are some airports that do have private TSA. But President Obama has opposed that and really pushed towards, you know, there being just a government agency and no private security.

BLITZER: I just want to leave you with two statements and we will wrap this up, Senator. This statement from the TSA, they released this after the incident with you today.

"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. 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" -- that statement from the TSA.

And your dad, Congressman Ron Paul, the presidential candidate, he issued this very tough statement. He said -- quote -- "The police state in this country is growing out of control. 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. The TSA does all of this while doing nothing to keep us safe."

That's a very strong statement from your father. Are you ready to go as far as he does?

PAUL: Well, what I would say is that they need the discretion to be allowed -- for example, if they thought something was on my knee and I pulled up my pants leg and showed them my knee, showed them underneath my socks that there was nothing there, and I agreed to go back through the scanner, I think most reasonable people would think, well, that's fairly reasonable. He's not refusing to comply. He just doesn't want to be patted down. He travels every week through the airport and would like just to go back through the scanner.

And I think we either need to get better scanners or admit that we are doing random pat-downs because of false beeps out of the scanner. And that's something I think they need to own up to, because two of them today told me that that is happening.

BLITZER: And I assume you agree with me. No one is blaming the officers, those people who were working at the airport. They're doing their job and they have got their requirements. It's the higher-ups that you're criticizing for not giving them the discretion to deal with, for example, someone like you?

PAUL: Absolutely.

As I have gone through the Nashville Airport for a year, the TSA agents have been nice, kind, supportive, friendly. But they're stuck. They're stuck with -- the gentleman who wouldn't let me go through, it's not his fault, but he has no discretion.

But then he called his manager, who had no discretion, who called his manager, who an hour-and-a-half later, they let me walk back through the screener, and the screener didn't go off this time, which really makes me think the screeners aren't very accurate if they go off one time and then don't go off the next time.

BLITZER: We're going to invite the TSA administrator, John Pistole, to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM and we're going to continue this conversation, because I know, as a frequent flyer myself, there are a lot of frustrations.

And we don't blame the individuals dealing at the airports with security. They're doing their jobs. But there's a lot of frustration out there. And we totally understand what you went through.

Senator, as usual, thanks very much.

PAUL: Thank you. 

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