A senior manager for the Transportation Security Administration at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport said his supervisors asked him to profile Somali imams and other Somali community members in Minnesota.
In a testimony Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Andrew Rhoades, assistant federal security director for TSA's office of security operations, said his supervisor had advised him to check the names of potential visitors with the agency's field intelligence officer.
"Recently I was asked to profile Somali imams and community members visiting my office," Rhoades said in his testimony. "I will not do that."
Rhoades added that his supervisor accused him of "going native" after attending a meeting at a local mosque. "Those in the community in Minneapolis know I would never betray their trust by profiling them," Rhoades said.
In a statement, a TSA spokesperson said his agency doesn't tolerate racial profiling.
"TSA takes allegations of racial profiling seriously," the statement said. "We are reviewing this complaint and will take appropriate action if there is evidence that any TSA officer acted inappropriately. However, it would be unfair and irresponsible to infer or conclude that profiling is a common TSA practice based upon a single interaction between one employee and his supervisor."
Rhoades' allegations promoted reactions from Somali community leaders and a Muslim civil rights organization.
Jaylani Hussein, leader of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota, or CAIR-MN, said the agency is "treating an entire community as suspects" which "goes against the fundamental principles of our society and our constitution."
"As a community we value the work that the TSA does," he said. "We're here, as a Muslim community, supporting the TSA in their efforts to protect Americans."
The new revelation will "extremely damage" the relationship between the community and the TSA, he said.
"We cannot profile, and especially this critical time, this sends a very negative message to the community," he said. "Not only there's anti-Muslim perspective or perception or rhetoric around the country today, but it's also being practiced by our most important institutions."
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, has been doing a community outreach initiatives aimed at the Muslim community in efforts to address concerns about profiling and screening of Muslims.
In February, Imam Hassan Mohamud of Minnesota Da'wah Institute said he was barred from a tour of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport organized by the DHS because of his strong opposition to a federal pilot program intended to prevent radicalization in Minnesota's Somali community.
Somalis are law-abiding citizens who had already went through an intensive screening process before they came to the United States, said Sheikh Sa'ad Roble, the founder and president of the World Peace Organization who is also an adviser to a Somali-American task force created by U.S. Attorney Andy Luger.
"It's a discrimination if community leaders and imams are subjected to extra profiling," Roble said. "All citizens should be equal under the law."
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he sent a letter to Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, after he was notified that TSA officials were "engaged in profiling individuals."
"The Somali American community, and all Minnesotans, deserve to know if TSA officials are engaging in racial, ethnic, or religious profiling," Ellison said in a statement. "If true, this allegation would raise several civil rights and privacy concerns."