Nomination Goes Southers: TSA Nominee Caught in False Statement to Congress

The Obama Administration’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is facing some serious questions after the release of a letter showing that he had intentionally or inadvertently misled Congress over his violation of privacy laws while at the FBI. While the Democrats are continuing to support Erroll Southers, civil libertarians have great misgivings over the controversy.

Twenty years ago, Southers got access to the personal records of the boyfriend of his ex-wife in a clear violation of privacy laws, which makes such review a misdemeanor criminal offense. Southers, who apologized over the incident (for which he was disciplined) told Congress earlier that it was a single occurrence where he asked a subordinate to pull the record.

One day, however, after the Senate committee approved his nomination (a highly suspicious timing for the disclosure), Southers wrote a letter to Congress to say that he had forgotten that (1) he had personally accessed the records, (2) he had done it more than once, and (3) he had personally passed along the information to friends in the local police department.

It is precisely the type of violation of privacy that has occurred all too often in these agencies and, when coupled with a question of veracity under oath, it has civil libertarians questioning this choice by Obama. During the hearing, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) asked “If you’re confirmed, you’re going to have the access to databases that have personal information on many, many individuals, such as through the secure flight program, and it’s going to be important for the public to have confidence that you would not, in any way, misuse your access to the personal information in those databases. So, let me first ask you: Have you ever in the past misused your access to databases that the government maintains, other than this one incident that led to this censure?” Southers replied, “No, Senator, I have not.”

Southers wrote the Committee:

“I am distressed by the inconsistencies between my recollection and the contemporaneous documents, but I assure you that the mistake was inadvertent, and that I have at all times taken full responsibility for what I know to have been a grave error in judgment,” the letter said. “This incident was over twenty years ago, I was distraught and concerned about my young son, and never in my career since has there been any recurrence of this sort of conduct.”

For their part, the Senators did their usual show of concern over civil liberties (an issue that Republicans hardly excelled on during the Bush Administration). Sen. Collins asked Southers “Do you commit today that you will respect the privacy and civil liberties concerns that people have with regard to the personal information in those databases?”

“Yes, Senator, I do,” Southers responded. Well that takes care of that.

For the full story, click here.

13 thoughts on “Nomination Goes Southers: TSA Nominee Caught in False Statement to Congress”

  1. Quote:

    Robert Harding, Obama’s Second TSA Nominee, Withdraws From Consideration

    EILEEN SULLIVAN | 03/27/10 07:07 AM |

    “I feel that the distractions caused by my work as a defense contractor would not be good for this administration nor for the Department of Homeland Security,” Harding said in a late-evening statement released by the White House. The Transportation Security Administration is part of Homeland Security.”

  2. He ran a background check on his ex-wife’s boyfriend. Cops do that all the time and it’s not because they are looking out for their kids, it’s because they want to know about the guy who is sleeping with their ex. How did he get busted? That’s the interesting part because while cops do this all the time, they rarely get busted. He probably ran the check and then felt a need to tell his ex what he had found and she or else her boyfriend turned him in. Why does it matter? It is unlikely and even incredible that he forgot the details of an event that resulted in an official reprimand from the FBI. He lied to the Senate.

    While this incident is 20 years old and water under the bridge, the guy lied in his confirmation hearings to a United States Senator. He lied when he said he did it for his kids; he lied when he said he had forgotten the incident; and he lied when he said he took full responsiblity – clearly he couldn’t have done that as he forgot what it was he was taking responsiblitiy for.

    On paper he seems to be fairly well qualified but TSA is about more than airports, it is about all transportation security. He needs to withdraw, the White House needs to stop defending him and it is time for the Senate to suggest this nomination that took 8 months to submit is dead in the water.

  3. Remember the NSA folks recording the phone sex and just plain funny calls the intercepted and making “Best Of” cd’s/dvd’s and passing them around? The Professor commented on that:

    “all employees of the US government” should expect that their telephone conversations could be monitored as part of an effort to safeguard security and “information assurance.”

    “They certainly didn’t consent to having interceptions of their telephone sex conversations being passed around like some type of fraternity game,” said Jonathon Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who has testified before Congress on the country’s warrantless surveillance program.

    Digby over at Hullabaloo wrote recently that s/he has concerns that this will happen with the full-body scan images; the scanners will misuse them once full-body scans become the next TSA security method at all airports:

    Having this nominee in charge of the hen-house doesn’t give me much faith that that bit of prophesy won’t be coming true.

  4. Liar, liar pants on fire–
    Making false statements in a sworn affidavit
    Should be a disqualifier!

    Maybe lying is considered to be a qualification for serving as an official of an administration. Move over, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez–make room for Erroll Southers.


  5. “I don’t recall being a law breaking unconstitutional scumbag willing to violate peoples rights so I could justify my budget. And if I was, it was a mistake. Getting caught that is.”

    Yah, FFELO has this guy’s number. Not to be trusted in a position of power. Not one bit.

  6. FFLEO,

    I really like and admire you. Those are excellent points. You make a very powerful argument and I hope it will not be ignored.

  7. From the linked WP article, it is clear that Southers made false statements in a *sworn affidavit*.

    “His letter to Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, and Susan Collins (Maine), the ranking Republican on the panel, attempts to correct statements about the episode that were made in a sworn affidavit on Oct. 22 and have been reported.”

  8. Southers told a bald-faced lie and everyone knows that he did. Why would anyone trust him now? A sane, ethical person who erred–although one who has made proper amends–would never ‘forget’ such a dramatic, unlawful personal incident.

    A principal reason LE is becoming militarized is that LEOs emulate all aspects of the military. Look at the pomposity displayed by Southers’ uniform; scrambled eggs on his visor and the 3 “General” Stars on his collar. Civilian LE *is not* military “law and justice.”

    One of the biggest complaints I had in LE training was that every violator was a ‘dirt bag’, scumbag, and many other base appellations that I will not repeat herein. With such biased attitudes against non-LE citizens, no wonder many LEOs overreact with use of force.

    Pursuant to the First Amendment, it is not illegal for our politicians to lie; however, it is illegal for LEOs to give false testimony and to falsify documents. I would *never* trust this man with sensitive privacy issues.

  9. I guess he did not hear about the Dick Cheney School of memory Recall. Stupid is as stupid does.

Comments are closed.