A U.S. Homeland Security Department watchdog unit is investigating alleged "profiling" of Somali-Americans by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Minneapolis, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.
The inquiry involves allegations that a TSA supervisor in Minneapolis, home to a large Somali-American population, told a subordinate to run the names of Somali-American visitors to a local agency office through counter-terrorism databases.
The TSA operates airline security checkpoints and is a part of Homeland Security, a sprawling U.S. cabinet department. Homeland Security's inspector general said it was investigating possible "profiling" by TSA after a TSA employee alleged his supervisor advised him "to treat members of the Somali community differently from others who visit the Minneapolis TSA office."
A spokeswoman for the Inspector General's Office said that the probe began after a TSA manager in Minneapolis told a U.S. House of Representatives panel that his supervisor had advised him to check the names of Somali visitors to TSA's local office with an intelligence officer before allowing them to visit.
The New York Times reported that the supervisor, David McMahon, wrote a mid-year performance evaluation in which he affirmed that he had advised subordinate Andrew Rhoades to check out the potential visitors in order to determine "if we want them in our office space or meet elsewhere."
The newspaper said that McMahon had also written that he had "reminded employee that with our current world affairs that we need to be mindful of those we interact with."
The spokeswoman for the Inspector General said its office had opened its investigation on Monday and that it was likely to last three to six months.
A spokesperson for TSA said: "The Transportation Security Administration does not racially profile, nor does it tolerate profiling by employees. TSA welcomes the Office of Inspector General’s investigation and will cooperate fully, but cannot comment until the investigation is complete."
Minneapolis has a large Somali-American community, which U.S. spy and law enforcement agencies for years have monitored as a small but steady flow of young men who have traveled overseas to join, and in some cases, fight with militant groups including Islamic State and Somalia-based Al Shabaab.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bernard Orr)