TSA Chief Defends Airport Pat-Downs (but Hillary Clinton Wouldn’t Want One)

TSA Chief Defends Airport Pat-Downs (but Hillary Clinton Wouldn’t Want One)

9 hours ago
Bruce Drake Bruce Drake
Contributing Editor

The New York Times has editorialized about the more aggressive pat-downs being done at airports, saying, “There are far too many reports of T.S.A. agents groping passengers, using male agents to search female passengers, mocking passengers and disdaining complaints.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” if she would submit to one, and she answered with a laugh: “Not if I, not if I could avoid it. No, I mean who would?”

It was less of a laughing matter for John Pistole, the embattled head of the Transportation Security Administration, whose agency was the target of the Times’ criticism, who had been grilled earlier last week about the new procedures at a Senate hearing, and who found himself walking a fine line Sunday between defending the security measures while trying to be “as sensitive as I can to those folks” who have been offended or shocked by what they see as overly intrusive searches.

Clinton said on CBS, “I understand how difficult it is, and how offensive it must be for the people who are going through it.” Appearing also on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she added: “Striking the right balance is what this is about. And I am absolutely confident that our security experts are going to keep trying to get it better and less intrusive and more precise. But at the same time, we want people to travel safely.”

Airport pat-downPressed repeatedly by host Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union,” whether the TSA might revise its practices to make them “less onerous” as Clinton appeared to suggest, Pistole said, “No, we’re not changing the policies, because of that, because of the risks that … have been identified …”

However, after the program, he sent a statement to Politico saying that his agency would work to make the screening procedures “as minimally invasive as possible, while still providing the security that the American people want and deserve.” The statement added, “This has always been viewed as an evolving program that will be adapted as conditions warrant.”

Crowley asked Pistole to join in a kind of play-by-play review of videos of various pat-downs that included screeners touching a woman’s breast, putting a hand in the pants of another person and feeling a man’s crotch.

“OK … This is a hand obviously going inside the pants. That’s OK?” asked Crowley.

“That’s OK around the belt line,” Pistole said. “And what we’re doing here, Candy, just so people are aware, that, for example, on Christmas Day, with the underwear bomber, what we’re looking for here is, you notice the officer with the gloves on — those gloves will then be tested for explosive trace residue.”

Pistole was referring to the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who boarded a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day with an explosive device sewn in his underwear that did not go off. Pistole had told the Senate panel last week that if a pat-down had caught Abdulmutallab before he got on the plane, “We might be having a different dialogue here this afternoon and in the public.”

“Here’s the last one,” said Crowley, rolling out the video of the man’s crotch being searched. “Is that OK?”

Pistole said it was, although he acknowledged, “It’s clearly — it’s invasive; it’s not comfortable.”

“What you seem to be saying is, you can be touched anywhere,” Crowley said.

“No, no, no, I’m not saying that at all,” Pistole responded. “There are standard operating procedures for the pat-downs. So some of these horror stories I’ve heard are frankly inaccurate, either misinformation or whatever. There are a number of people who have been touched, as you say, patted down in a way that they never expected.”

Defending the pat-downs that do take place, Pistole said: “It really comes down to what is that balance between privacy and security, and without profiling. … People talk about, well, why don’t we profile? Of course, we don’t do that here in the U.S., but we use all the latest intelligence. We have watch lists. We know about people who pose a threat to aviation security. It’s those we won’t know. And so it’s that balance between privacy and security.”

He underlined that if a would-be passenger gets by all the security checks and the metal detectors but chooses to “opt out” of going through the “advanced imaging technology” machines (a term the TSA prefers over “whole-body imagers” or “full-body scanners”), the only way to ensure they don’t pose the same kind of threat as the would-be Christmas Day bomber is to make sure they “receive a thorough pat-down so they don’t pose a risk to that plane.”

“Is it demeaning?” Crowley asked.

“I think it really comes down to the person,” said Pistole. “I’ve talked to a number of people who said, ‘Hey, this is exactly what we need to be doing; it is thorough, and that’s what I want; I want thoroughness when … when I get on a plane, to know everybody has been screened properly.’ To some people, it is demeaning


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