Lawsuit: TSA Supervisor Got Traveler Arrested For Bogus 'Terroristic Threat' Charge, Lied About Incident In Court

from the obviously,-the-'T'-stands-for-'Thug' dept

Here’s more evidence the TSA really isn’t about keeping travelers safe. What it is about is malevolent middle-management-types fiercely guarding the borders of their microfiefdoms and arbitrarily ejecting ticket-holding serfs for any conceivable reason.

Roger Vanderklok, a distance runner who frequently flies to events around the country, had the misfortune of passing through TSA supervisor Charles Kieser’s turf at the Philadelphia airport. Vanderklok faced some legitimate questions (as legitimate as any questions based on the ever-shifting TSA list of suspicious items can be, anyway) and answered them all satisfactorily.

On this day, he was headed to Miami. In his carry-on bag was a packet of PowerBars and a heart-monitoring watch. When the bag went through the X-ray scanner, the items looked suspicious to a TSA agent whom Kieser supervises.

For the next 30 minutes, screeners checked the bag several times. Vanderklok told them that a tube-shaped case in the bag contained his watch. Then he was asked if his bag contained “organic matter.” Vanderklok said no, as he thought “organic matter” meant fruits or vegetables.

PowerBars, which contain milk, grain and sugar, are considered “organic matter” and can resemble a common explosive. Terrorists often use a small electronic device, like a watch, to detonate the explosive. Hence the agent’s concern.

But the TSA’s Charles Kieser took issue with Vanderklok’s suggestion: that agents make it a bit more clear what “organic matter” entails. Keiser decided Vanderklok didn’t appreciate the severity of the situation (that situation being, apparently, that the TSA makes suggestions, not the other way around). According to Vanderklok’s lawsuit [pdf link], Kieser became “confrontational.” Vanderklok then asked if he could file a complaint. Bad move.

Instead, Kieser summoned the Philadelphia Police. Vanderklok was taken to an airport holding cell, and his personal belongings – including his phone – were confiscated while police “investigated” him.

Vanderklok was detained for three hours in the holding cell, missing his plane. Then he was handcuffed, taken to the 18th District at 55th and Pine and placed in another cell.

He says that no one – neither the police officers at the airport nor the detectives at the 18th – told him why he was there. He didn’t find out until he was arraigned at 2 a.m. that he was being charged with “threatening the placement of a bomb” and making “terroristic threats.”

Vanderklok’s Kafkaesque odyssey finally ended at 4 a.m., when his wife paid 10 percent of his $40,000 bail.

Kieser provided his version of the story at Vanderklok’s trial — one that was mostly lies. He claimed Vanderklok “threatened” to bring a bomb through security. He also claimed Vanderklok made aggressive arm movements and pointed his finger in Keiser’s face. Unfortunately for Kieser, surveillance footage proved nearly every accusation false.

Throughout the search, Vanderklok appears calm. His laptop computer is tucked under his arms and his hands are clasped in front of him the entire time. Without any fuss, he follows TSA agents when they move from one part of the screening area to another. He even smiles a little.

Not once does he raise his hands. Not once does he point a finger in Kieser’s face. If anyone is becoming agitated, the video shows, it is Kieser.

And as for the only claim that might have held up — the “bomb threat” — Keiser’s own words on the police statement, as well as his underlings’ actions, undercut that assertion as well. No agent other than Kieser appears to be the least bit alarmed by Vanderklok’s alleged bomb threat. One messes with his cellphone. Another rearranges bins. No passengers are prevented from entering the area.

In his statement to the police, Kieser claims Vanderklok said “Anyone could bring a bomb through here and you wouldn’t know it.” That’s not a threat. That’s an opinion. And, given the TSA’s track record on stopping airborne terrorists, the protected opinion/non-threat comes disturbingly close to being a factual statement.

The presiding judge dismissed the charges against Vanderklok “within minutes” of Kieser’s statements. Kieser’s testimony must have been incredibly terrible, considering the judge never even bothered to view the video evidence that contradicted most of his claims. There must have been an obvious odor of vindictiveness permeating the courtroom during the TSA supervisor’s statements. And it’s that same respect-my-authority-or-else attitude that’s likely going to cost the TSA some money.

Vanderklok has filed a lawsuit against the agency for his wrongful arrest, one that also names the Philly police department as co-defendants. Perhaps the video clearing Vanderklok will be seen during this court battle, or perhaps the agency will just settle quickly, rather than allow Kieser to further embarrass himself. And perhaps, Kieser will finally be out of a job. But for now, he still wields a level of power that far outpaces his ability to perform his duties in a credible and responsible manner.

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Comments on “Lawsuit: TSA Supervisor Got Traveler Arrested For Bogus 'Terroristic Threat' Charge, Lied About Incident In Court”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Wow, I’d suffer through the same problem. For me organic stuff are vegetables, seeds or animal content that is not industrially processed and properly packaged. Such as a chocolate or a power bar. He was lucky. Others have had way worse luck in airports (while the TSA is an American gem flying in countries like the UK, France and others is just as bad even if they don’t have a TSA to screw up).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I can understand the confusion, given that the “organic” part of “organic food” is really misusing the term. In biology, “organic” means something that is, is derived from, or is related to, living things. It indicates nothing about whether or not processing or industrial chemicals were involved.

The TSA should phrase the question differently.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nitpick: “Organic” means that something has carbon atoms in it. While organic compounds are important to life, they do not imply a relation to living things.

Methane and other organic compounds found on Mars increase the chances of finding life there, but can be found without it. Giant clouds of alcohol – an organic compound – have been found in space but do not imply life. Nor does the methane and ammonia on Jupiter, nor the hydrocarbon atmosphere and lakes on Titan.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Thank you for the clarification, but I am quite sure the TSA won’t stand for the extra wait period when I have to look up every word coming out of their mouths in fear of otherwise being imprisoned. If they are so determined to strictly use the precise scientific way of determining organic matter, maybe they should say “organic matter which is items that do not contain carbon” plus examples.
Do you know what people would call me if I got angry or condescending every time someone didn’t know the particulars of IT? A jerk or an asshole… which is exactly what this TSA guy is.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Nitpick: “Organic” means that something has carbon atoms in it. While organic compounds are important to life, they do not imply a relation to living things.”

Well, since we’re nitpicking, that’s the definition from the realm of chemistry.

From the realm of phsysiology, the definition of “organic” is “having to do with organs”. From the legal realm, it’s defined as “relating to or constituting the law by which an organization exists.” Another correct general-purpose definition is “something that is an integral part of a larger whole”.

All of these are correct. I was just using the definition that seemed closest to what the TSA apparently meant.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Hmm, you may be right. Perhaps they use the word “organic” precisely because it has so many different legitimate meanings. It is literally impossible for anyone to not be carrying something that is “organic” by one definition or another, so anyone that answers “no” is guaranteed to be wrong (and so, in the TSA’s eyes, they are lying.)

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Unless your bag was manufactured in a clean room and never removed from it, it contains organic matter.

Unless your bag is made solely of metal, not likely, it contains organic matter. Plastics, cotton fiber, canvas, etc., all contain carbon, and thus are organic no matter how they are made. The statement, made by the TSA, is not only not scientific based, but it isn’t really based in any known use of the word organic either.

I’ve been asked at the airport if my bag contained any organic material, and I’ve always said yes. When they checked and didn’t find anything, I said my bag was made of plastic fibers and contained clothes, all which had carbon in them. Luckily, I’ve never flown through Philadelphia and every time the TSA agent has returned my luggage to me after swabbing it and allowed me to move on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Unless your bag is made solely of metal, not likely, it contains organic matter.”

Don’t forget asbestos.

Asbestos can be woven into cloth, and there was even a time when industrial ‘shop’ clothing was commonly made out of it.

And anyway, didn’t the Flintstones have suitcases made out of solid rock?

Violynne (profile) says:

To think the world has an issue with North Korea, yet every day, the US is turning into the very country it hates.

We can no longer travel between borders without government intervention, just like North Korea.

Our communications are monitored, just like North Korea.

Our rights are eroded, just like North Korea.

The government is abusing its power, holy shit, just like North Korea.

One day, we’ll wake up as our families are whisked away into detention centers.

Wait. Aren’t those called “Walmart” here in the US?

Articles like this sicken me and prove, once again, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not to mention the erosion of “freedom of the press” “free speech zones” and the expansion of the definition of hate crimes. We live in a day where posting lyrics to rap songs online can get you flagged as a terrorist and get all your rights waived.

The one thing that is still protected appears to be criticism of the government. That really is the only major difference. The rest are all different by degree only.

vdev (profile) says:

Re: Re: commenting

It seems likely that consequences would be several in North Korea.

And here we can talk about it and report on it. But if you do you might well find that you yourself miss your next flight to wherever you were going. You almost certainly won’t go to jail but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that you’ll never fly again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…into detention centers.

Wait. Aren’t those called “Walmart”…

When I don’t have a choice to walk into a Walmart, and I don’t have a choice to walk out of same without purchasing anything, then I’ll believe that. A better example would be the agency that issues your ID/passport/driver’s license.

The rest of that post is spot on!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Turnabout and incentives for honesty

I believe that any time it’s found that a person is trying to frame someone for a crime they didn’t commit, like happened here, the one making the false claims should automatically be found guilty of the crime they are trying to frame another for, with the sentence being doubled($1,000 fine instead of $500, 10 years prison instead of 5, and so on) from what it would have been had the innocent person been found guilty.

Try and frame someone for assault? Then you are found guilty of assault and have whatever the punishment would have been doubled.

Attempt to frame someone for drug possession? Same thing, you’re found guilty of the crime and your sentence is double what it would have been.

Try and frame someone for ‘making bomb related threats’? Then you’re found guilty of of that same crime and face double the penalty for it.

If there were real (or any)penalties for committing perjury and trying to frame an innocent person, maybe, just maybe, people would be less quick to do so.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Turnabout and incentives for honesty

I don’t see it as excessive at all really, perjury to try and hide your own actions, or the actions of someone else is one thing, but intentionally lying in court in order to frame someone else for a crime they didn’t commit? At a minimum that should carry a penalty equal to the crime you’re trying to frame the person for, and I see that sort of thing as bad enough that it deserves extra punishment, hence the doubled penalty. Someone who thinks it’s acceptable to frame an innocent person deserves to get a taste, and then some, of just what they tried to inflict on their would-be-victim.

Including Govt officials and law enforcement of course.

Oh no, not including, but especially government officials and law enforcement. Those that are tasked with serving and representing the public deserve to the held to the highest of standards, and face harsh penalties should they betray the trust of the public, more so when they do so in a manner meant to inflict harm on those they are supposed to serve.

mrpapercuts says:

Re: Turnabout and incentives for honesty

This would prevent people from reporting crimes, out of fear that the criminal would win in court, making the accuser responsible for “framing” him.

What happens when I accuse someone of doing something shady (say, I saw someone breaking into a van), and it turns out I’m wrong (they owned the van, and were locked out), but I was well intentioned, and now I’m going to prison for double GTA?

That’s the problems with penalties for perjury and “framing someone” – humans are innacurate creatures, you have to allow room for error or else MORE bad things happen, not less. What you are proposing is and would be used for censorship. It would just make people afraid to ever accuse anyone of anything.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Turnabout and incentives for honesty

Obviously you’d have to prove intent. That’s the entire point. We already differentiate between a crime done by accident and one done on purpose.

In the example above, the TSA supervisor was clearly lying and doing so in order to accuse someone of a crime. Note the intent here…you can’t lie if you’re wrong and don’t know it. There’s no way he could have accidentally thought the guy pointed at him and threatened him. It’s clearly a lie he created to justify his own actions.

This wouldn’t affect reporting at all because proving intent has a rather high standard. If a reasonable person could have made the mistake, like in your van theft example, there’s no crime.

PaulT (profile) says:

I was saying this to someone the other day – I was born in a city that was attacked by the IRA and grew up near another. I regularly visit 2 cities that have suffered regular terrorist attacks throughout history and I can see an Islamic country from my local beach.

But, you know what actually worries me about terrorism? The overblown responses to it. When I visit the US next month, I’m far more concerned that I’ll come across some small-minded bully like this while trying to get to my connecting flights than I am that anyone will do anything to the planes I’m travelling on.

That’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When I visit the US next month …

It’s amazing that you can say this in a thread talking about this subject. You appear to believe we’re still in the last century. Anyone traveling to the US these days is a fool, as Vanderklik’s story proves. Perhaps you’ll be in line for a big payout from resultant lawsuits, or maybe you’ll just end up stranded in an airport when you end up on the no-fly list or your visa is revoked. Capricious officialdom is the rule these days, not the exception.

What kind of an idiot travels to Nazi Germany in 1939?

David says:

Well, he was asking for it.

He was assaulting Kieser and pinning him by asking what he considered organic matter. Kieser probably knows how “organic matter” gets flagged and that it’s related to bombs but would be totally afloat actually giving a definitive statement. So clearly Vanderklok was attempting to incapacitate Kieser and tie up airport security, probably in order to let a coconspirator slip through unnoticed.

Getting him dragged off the airport was the safest way to ensure that he could not continue to detract from the other terrorists’ attempts to get fissionable material on board.

Just try putting yourself into the shoes of a complete psychopath. Wouldn’t you want to have Vanderklok arrested? Ok, now take off Kieser’s shoes again. I mean, ugh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: cubicleslave on Feb 10th, 2015 @ 7:34am

And the right-wingers in Congress want to make the border fence with Mexico even MORE fortified and militarized! They sure have alot in common with their former archenemies of the Communist Republics of the Soviet Union, but it would be too uncomfortable for them to admit that.

David says:

Re: Re: Response to: cubicleslave on Feb 10th, 2015 @ 7:34am

Major difference is that the border fence is to keep people out without going through due process. Communist Republics used fences to keep people IN and prevent them from escaping. If you want to leave the US, the government won’t stop you. Likewise, people defected to the USSR and they let them come in. And then didn’t let them back out if they changed their minds.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Re:

it is by design. whoever is in charge wants americans afraid enough to give up all their rights for supposed security.

It is much easier for a criminal and corrupt ruling party to have a willing population to rule over. More so when you make their basic rights illegal unless allowed the privledge of what used to be a basic right by said rulers.

Just look at history has more than enough examples of this

John85851 (profile) says:

The terrorists have already won

Yet again, this proves the terrorists have won. Why couldn’t the TSA agent ask the guy to eat a PowerBar to prove it wasn’t a bomb or ask the guy to show off his watch? And in a better world, the agent could pretend to be a techie and get the guy talking about features of the watch. After a few minutes, it would be obvious that the guy was a runner or a very good liar.

But, instead, the terrorists have achieved their goal of making TSA agents live in a world of fear where everyone is treated like a suspected terrorist, any snacks could be bomb material, and any electronics can be a detonator.

I also wish there was a way to hold agents like this personally responsible. Instead, the issue will be handled the sames as when police officers do something bad: the agency or union will pay out, the payment will come out of the agency’s budget (which is funded by taxes), and everyone will have to pay a little more to cover the lawsuit.
So how is the agent punished? Maybe he’s suspended of fired, but does that really balance having a guy arrested and having an arrest record (even if the charges were thrown out), and then lying about it in court?

scotts13 (profile) says:

Re: The terrorists have already won

“Yet again, this proves the terrorists have won. Why couldn’t the TSA agent ask the guy to eat a PowerBar to prove it wasn’t a bomb or ask the guy to show off his watch? And in a better world, the agent could pretend to be a techie and get the guy talking about features of the watch. After a few minutes, it would be obvious that the guy was a runner or a very good liar.”

Because there’s no incentive to demonstrate someone is NOT a terrorist. No valid suspects, no reason to swing your d*ck around, no reason to even have the job.

Abdul Hamid Malik says:

Re: The terrorists have already won

As simple as in Indo-Pakistan (Included Bangladesh) we can supply foods to our relatives in Jails or lockups.
The only test for Poison so an enemy or else may not do wrong police asks the carrier to mix-up thoroughly and eat 3-full bites; kept there for 20 minutes. Then accept for delivery.

I was in school when this had to deliver. And it is still in vogue. No solids allowed.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

If the TSA thought the items were suspicious, why didn’t they use that machine they use on CPAP machines to test for explosive material?

From the TSA website:

“however, an officer may need to remove the CPAP, BiPAP or APAP from the bag to test it for traces of explosives.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Apparently the idiots that run TSA don’t even know that many types of explosives are inorganic compounds. For instance, lead azide, which for a century has been widely used as a primary detonator in both military and commercial explosives. (and no, I don’t suggest trying to educate the TSA goons about this while you are in their crosshairs)

So are we supposed to believe that the lesson from all this is that anyone planning on packing a bomb in their luggage would be advised to bring one constructed of metal-salt based (or other inorganic) explosive compound so they can honestly answer “no” to the “organic” question?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ah, but then they’d still be “lying”. After all, the strict definition of “organic compound” is anything that contains carbon. So frankly, the answer to the question “Is there anything organic in there?” should almost always be “Yes” and any answer other than “Yes” should arouse a lot of suspicion.

Kaemaril (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Have you got any organic matter in this bag, sir?”
“Probably. I’m no scientist, so I can’t say for certain. I think the bag’s actually got a leather lining, so I think I might. Does leather count?”

“Have you got any organic matter in this bag, sir?”
“Sure have! I accidentally sneezed in it twenty minutes ago!”

“Have you got any organic matter in this bag, sir?”
“At the very least, the last time I put my hand in there it would have transferred some skin cells so I’m going to have to go with yes.”

“Trying to be funny, sir?”
“Hey, if there’s some standard definition of ‘organic matter’ you go with, maybe you ought to explain it before asking people.”

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Material Science

1) My daughter brought back a Palm Sunday palm frond doll from France. It was confiscated by customs, I signed off on the confiscation and was chastised because I did not check off the “plants or seeds” box on the I94 form.

2) I applied for a Global Entry pass for US customs. A year later, I had my application rejected at interview because to paraphrase “I was a lying liar who lies, and imports contraband”. I asked WTF, they said “You know.” I repeated WTF, they said “Crushed Palm Leaves”. I had no recollection, because, recall, what I had confiscated was a DOLL, not a plant.

But you see, the doll that I had was made of plants. And I am supposed to know that. But then, where does it end? My cotton shirt is also made of plants. I’d venture that nobody at all has ever crossed a border guard without some plant material on his/her person.

Where does the responsibility to understand the input materials of our products end?
– Is Vanderklok legally required to know what “organics” means, to that agent in that context? He had Powerbars. Does he need to know the list of ingredients, and their family, genus, and species?

– Does someone driving from Vancouver to Seattle need to know the soft materials used in the seating for their car, which may contain plant matter? Or all the other input materials for their car?

– Why is everything so arbitrary? I’ve had trips where a new and packaged Snickers bar is not considered food by agents that I’ve asked, and I’ve had trips where it IS considered food. You can judge which was right, but regardless, it should not depend on the mood of the agent.

If the Homeland Security agents can’t nail down what is contraband and what is not, how can we? Ridiculous! A moron in a hurry cannot be expected to be a material science expert on the composition of every product they carry across borders or onto airplanes. Nor should we need to be.

Homeland Security should look for bombs and weapons. That’s all most of us really care about our TSA finding. Just keep the plane safe.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Material Science

“Why is everything so arbitrary?”

It’s basic psychology: one of the things you do to people to increase their level of subservience to you is to make arbitrary demands that are strictly enforced. It’s a classic move made by pretty much all cults ever.

When you start looking at the TSA with that eye, an awful lot of what they do was ripped straight out of the “how to start a cult” handbook.

jimb (profile) says:

more TSA folly

Here’s a TSA supervisor who isn’t satisfied with having a job where he literally just has to go through the motions. This guy has a little authority complex, he’s pretty full of himself and his sacred mission to protect the public through wasting their time and mild harrassment. He over-reacts, probably because he’s only marginally qualified to do his job in the first place. Now, after he’s harrassed and annoyed a law-abiding citizen, and been found wrong, the agencies involved, who hired this unqualified person, are getting sued. The agencies will settle, they can’t risk a full loss in a court, and the cost of operating the agencies will be a little higher, with our taxes paying. The moron who cost all of us the settlement, like so many other ‘officers of the law’ who behave this way, may or may not be fired, but either way -he- won’t be paying the settlement, we will. I don’t begrudge Vanderklok his settlement, he should never have been harrassed and delayed as he was by this idiot abusing his authority. But I do think that Kieser should be paying the settlement, for as long as it takes, he should be paying back the government and we taxpayers for his stupidity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Normally I don’t like funding used as a political football, but I right now, there are Republicans threatening to de-fund the DHS over current immigration rules, and I don’t see that as a bad thing.

Maybe we don’t need a cabinet-level department that presides over so much corruption to be active in any meaningful way.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The creation of the DHS was an enormous mistake. It would be wonderful if that could be undone. I hope that it doesn’t happen as a result of that stupid spat over immigration, though. That is, as you say, just playing political games and shouldn’t be rewarded.

The DHS needs to go simply because it has made the actions of the agencies under its umbrella more aggressive in violating the rights of citizens, more expensive, more corrupt, and less effective.

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