Report: No evidence TSA manager told air marshals to racially profile

Nearly a year after three former federal air marshals told FOX 46 they were told to target African Americans at one of the nation's busiest airports by a TSA supervisor who used a racial slur, the government's watchdog agency "did not identify evidence to corroborate" the allegations.

The eight-page Office of Inspector General report, ordered by members of Congress, was sparked by a FOX 46 investigation. Last year, three former air marshals, including Steve Theodoropolous, who now lives in North Carolina, told FOX 46 that a supervisor who still works in Florida directed them to target African Americans at the Orlando International Airport a decade ago. 

All three gave the same testimony to the OIG.

"He told us, 'Stop and talk to the black people. Get the black people because they're the ones that have warrants," said Theodoropoulos. "But he didn't use 'the black people.' He used the 'n-word.'"

The Office of Inspector General, which oversees the TSA, interviewed 30 current and former employees. 

"Apart from the testimony of the three complainants we did not identify any additional evidence to substantiate the allegation," the report said. 

Investigators found "no records of previous complains about this specific allegation, or records of any other complaints" against the manager related to racial discrimination. One officer told investigators that the manager told TSA officers to "watch certain travelers" for additional screening and that "those travelers tended to be minorities."

A half dozen employees told investigators that other behavior detection supervisors and officers did profile travelers "based on race and/or appearance rather than behavior."

"Some BDOs [Behavior Detection Officers] said that some BDO supervisors pointed out minorities, including African American or Hispanic travelers, based on their appearance - such as having tattoos, or wearing 'baggy clothes' or 'gaudy jewelry' - and told BDOs to pay particularly close attention to them for paotential additional screening," two officers told investigators. 

Similar allegations were also made at Boston's Logan Airport. 

The behavior detection program was meant to flag potentially dangerous passengers based on how they acted or if they appeared stressed or fearful. The program was deemed flawed and unscientific and has been mostly stopped. 

In 2012, 37,000 passengers were selected for additional screening based on their behavior. In 2018 that number dropped to 1000. 

The TSA manager has denied the accusations, calling them "false and fabricated."

"In my 28 years working in public service as a police officer and then with the TSA protecting the aviation system, I have never had a complaint or accusation or racism," he said. "I have served with honor and integrity my entire career."

Reached for comment, all three former air marshals say they stand by their allegations.

Read and download the OIG report here