TSA Pat Down Went Too Far, Agency Chief Says

Oh my God, if this was my wife someone would die.  Horribly.

The beleaguered head of the Transportation Security Administration said today that at least one airport passenger screening went too far when an officer reached inside a traveler’s underwear, and the agency is open to rethinking its current protocols.

An ABC News employee said she was subject to a “demeaning” search at Newark Liberty International Airport Sunday morning.

“The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around,” she said. “It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate.”

That search was against protocols and “never” should have happened, TSA Administrator John Pistole told “Good Morning America” today.

“There should never be a situation where that happens,” Pistole said. “The security officers are there to protect the traveling public. There are specific standard operating protocols which they are to follow.”

Pistole, reponding to complaints from passengers, has maintained that the TSA will not change its pat down procedures. But today he said the agency is “open” to changing security procedures.

“The bottom line is, we are always adapting and adjusting prior protocols in view of the intelligence and in view of the latest information we have on how the terrorists are trying to kill our people on planes,” Pistole said. “If that means we need to adjust the procedures, then of course we’re open to that.”

Pistole said the key to travel security is finding the proper balance between protecting against very real threats — such as the failed cargo bomb plot and the current search for two suicide bombers believed to be at large in Germany — and protecting individual privacy, something that some passengers claim invasive pat down procedures have taken away.

In recent days, several passengers have come forward to tell shocking stories about their experiences with TSA officers.

Thomas Sawyer, a bladder cancer survivor, said he was humiliated after a pat down broke his urostomy bag, leaving the 61-year-old covered in his own urine. Sawyer said he warned the TSA officials twice the pat down could break the seal.

“I was so embarrassed and so petrified of going out into the airport and people would see me and quote unquote smell me,” Sawyer said. “My underwear had dropped to the floor and I’m standing there in front of them with my underwear and had to ask to pull it up.”

Cathy Bossi, a long-time flight attendant and breast cancer survivor said the TSA made her take off her prosthetic breast.

“She put her full hand on my breast and said ‘What is this?’ I said ‘It’s a prosthesis because I’ve had a breast cancer,'” Bossi said. “And she said, ‘You’ll need to show me that.'”

A video of a father taking his young son’s shirt off so he can be searched has gone viral online with nearly half a million views in just three days.

Passengers aren’t the only ones calling for a new look at security procedures.

President Barack Obama said Saturday that he understood people’s frustrations and told the TSA that there needs to be a constant refinement and “measure whether what we’re doing is the only way to assure the American people’s safety and you also have to think through are there less ways of doing it that are less intrusive.”

On “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there’s an ongoing question of assessing risk.

“I think that we have to be constantly asking ourselves, how do we calculate the risk?’ And sometimes we don’t calculate it correctly, we either understate it or overstate it.” she said.

When asked if she would submit to a pat-down, Clinton said: “Not if I could avoid it, no. I mean, who would?”

Pistole said he is “very aware” of the concerns raised by passengers and said if anyone feels their privacy was violated, they can file a complaint on the TSA’s website or ask for a supervisor at the airport.

“We’re here to protect you and your loved ones, especially this weekend when you’re flying home,” he said.

“We all wish we lived in a world where security procedures at airports weren’t necessary but that just isn’t the case,” Pistole said in a statement Sunday.

Geoff Freeman with the U.S. Travel Association said the new procedures has prompted an important debate about what passengers would do for the sake of national safety.

“For the first time in a post 9/11 environment, travelers are now saying they’re willing to discuss risk, they’re willing to discuss trade offs, that’s the discussion we need to have,” he said.

A grassroots internet campaign to encourage travelers to “opt out” of the full-body scans on Wednesday or the busiest travel day of the year, has officials concerned over a possible travel gridlock.

Though thousands of Facebook users have said they vowed to opt-out, some say the movement may be overstated and overblown.

“The truth is, most travelers just want to get to their destination as fast as possible,” said Genevieve Shaw Brown, Senior Editor at Travelocity.

Across the nation, there are 385 of the new full-body scanners at airports, but there are 2100 total security lanes.

That equals about 80 percent of security lanes won’t have the machines in place.

“Most people will go through business as usual, the metal detector that we’ve all become used to, taking off the shoes, pouring our liquids in to the tiny little containers, business as usual for the vast majority of people,” Brown said.

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2 Responses to “TSA Pat Down Went Too Far, Agency Chief Says”

  1. every time you write, i follow. even bookmarked your blog. never reply tho, but *thumbs up*

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