Flood of Complaints Leave TSA Relatively Unchanged

Posted: Nov 24, 2010 12:01 AM
Flood of Complaints Leave TSA Relatively Unchanged

TSA administrator John Pistole told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the TSA hasn’t changed security measures -- besides permitting a modified pat-down for children under 12 -- as a result of the public outcry against its latest enhanced pat-downs, but the agency is going back to the Government Accountability Office and other offices to assess whether the procedures can be modified without sacrificing safety.

Pistole also clarified that children under 12 will be able to undergo a modified pat-down. His explanation behind this was that, since these procedures are intelligence-driven and there’s been no intelligence that children 12 or under have engaged in acts of terror at airports, a modified pat-down was acceptable.

“We don’t have any intelligence worldwide that children 12 and under have been used in terrorist attacks by adults,” Pistole said, adding that they did have information that teenagers had been used.

People with religious objections – the reporter used Muslim women as an example -- are allowed a private screening, which is an option everyone has, but those with headwear are also allowed to give themselves their own pat-downs in that region. When asked specifically about the Council on Islamic Relation’s press release saying the TSA will allow some people to pat down themselves, Pistole said the pat-down is conducted with standard protocol. He specified later that a self pat-down is allowed for headwear, and the TSA would then do explosive trace detection of the hands. He did not clarify whether a fully body self pat-down was allowed.

“We treat everybody the same in terms of they need to go through either an AIT [Advanced Image Technology – the body scanners] if available or they have to…walk through a metal detector and/or any other screening that is warranted,” Pistole said.

Pistole estimated he’d received about 2,000 complaints – some being about the procedure as opposed to the execution -- as of Tuesday either about the body scanners or the enhanced pat-downs. He did say that the TSA will take passengers’ complaints about TSA abuse and follow up with the passengers and security officers. Pistole said some of the accusations had been reviewed on security videotape and found to be false, but that if a security officer is guilty of inappropriate behavior or that outside of the standard operating protocol, appropriate action is taken. Pistole did not specify what the punishment or standard operating protocol was, though he said some of the pat-down descriptions circulating have been wildly outside the protocol which security officers have to follow.

Pistole also said the TSA is looking at Automated Target Recognition software modification to the existing body scanner hardware. ATR does the same thing as the Advanced Image Technology, only the images are projected as stick-figures in most configurations.

“We have trained and retrained our security officers to make sure they’re doing their thing from a security basis,” Pistole said.

Part of the reason for the enhanced pat-downs, Pistole confirmed, came from the TSA, the GAO, and the Homeland Security Inspector General’s Office policing themselves –they would send testers through security checkpoints to see whether the security could be breached. Pistole also cited the Christmas Day bombing attacks and the recent cargo plot as reasons for the AIT and enhanced pat-down.

Townhall submitted three follow-up questions to the TSA: 1)Has the TSA taken any additional measures to ensure those conducting the pat-downs have been vetted thoroughly, and what does that vetting consist of, 2)Where a passenger can find information that says what the standard operating procedure is so that they know if it’s been violated, 3) whether Muslim women are allowed to conduct the entire body pat-down themselves.

Update: The TSA's response confirmed that all people with baggy clothing who opt out of an AIT scan will not be allowed to give themselves the full body pat-down. The best option for those who feel they have been improperly screened is to speak with a TSA manager at the security checkpoint. Also, TSA screeners are subject to checks when being hired that cover the terrorist watch list, criminal records, immigration, and also a drug test.