U.S. officials defend new airport screening procedures

ARLINGTON, Virginia Mon Nov 15, 2010 2:41pm EST

An employee of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration uses a special LED light to check the authenticity of a passenger's driver's license as he matches names on boarding passes at Washington Reagan National Airport January 4, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed

An employee of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration uses a special LED light to check the authenticity of a passenger's driver's license as he matches names on boarding passes at Washington Reagan National Airport January 4, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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ARLINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) - Homeland security officials on Monday defended heightened airport security screening measures but said they would consider adjustments to new rigorous patdowns after complaints from travelers.

With the busy holiday travel season about to begin, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made it clear that new full-body scan checks would become the routine as hundreds of the machines are installed at U.S. airports and that the alternative would be physical patdowns.

"If there are adjustments we need to make to these procedures as we move forward, we have an open ear; we will listen," she told reporters during a news conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

"This is all being done as a process to make sure the traveling public is safe," she said, adding that the scans did not pose health risks and that privacy safeguards have been adopted to prevent the images from being saved or transmitted.

There are almost 400 body scan machines in some 68 U.S. airports. Some airports still only use metal detectors. Those who opt out of a body scan would be subject to a patdown, which the Transportation Security Administration has made more rigorous in recent weeks and has provoked the backlash.

The DHS and its TSA have been scrambling to address a public backlash against the new security measures, including a call to boycott body scans on one of the busiest travel days, the day before Thanksgiving.

"I really regret that," Napolitano said of the proposed boycott. "Our evaluation of the intelligence and risk indicated that we needed to move more quickly into the non-metal environment, to get liquids and powders and gels off of aircraft."

TSA rushed deployment of body scanners after a foiled plot by a Nigerian man who tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear aboard a U.S. flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Last month authorities discovered explosives hidden in two packages aboard cargo flights to the United States.

The Yemen-based militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the plots. Lawmakers are set to grill TSA Administrator John Pistole on Tuesday and Wednesday about possible gaps in aviation security.

To stem the concerns, Napolitano and Pistole met last week with travel industry executives who have expressed worries that Americans will cancel their trips and thus hurt the fragile economy which is still trying to recover from a recession.

Already the TSA has given a little ground after the flood of complaints, announcing that it has eliminated patdowns for children under 12 and will develop alternative procedures for pilots who are already subject to extensive security checks.

"We've heard the concerns that have been expressed and agree that children under 12 should not receive that pat-down," Pistole said on NBC's "Today Show". TSA had been reviewing the issue and Reuters last week reported about a father upset after his 8-year-old son was subjected to a patdown.

TSA also is experimenting with some alternative checks for the pilots after their unions raised concerns about health risks of the scanners and objected to rigorous patdowns. DHS has said the scans involve less radiation than people receive otherwise on a daily basis.

Pilots' unions have said they already have gone through security background checks and have access to the cockpit, making further screening duplicative. Napolitano said she expected more details to resolve that issue soon.

(Editing by Deborah Charles and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (38)
wolf91101 wrote:
Thank you for doing what you can to protect me and those here in the U.S. who care. I know the bad guys are here to harm me/us, what you do aids in my protection. To those who think its against your “CONSTITUTIONAL” RIGHTS to be checked, I add… you have the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to be blown out of the skies because you where to stupid to allow those who can help us, help. Had these steps been in place on Sept., 11-2001, might the outcome have been different? Thank you!

Nov 15, 2010 3:17pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Laminator wrote:
Airport security as we know has been around for many years. As a result of all the many thousands of checks that have been made EXACTLY how many terrorists have been apprehended? Identified? Explosives found?
I have personally observed a number of instances where illegal aliens (from Mexico) have passed through the security inspection lines and been allowed on airlines in spite of the fact that they were wearing two or three sets of clothes, and had phony I.D. (very obvious).
Now you are going to pat me down,No, conduct a body search including my privates? I remember the days when TSA agents were minimum wage employees and haven’t seen anything to warrant their getting a pay raise lately. If one of them were to pat down my wife or a 13 year old child I’m afraid the agent would be physically injured (as in knocked on his/her ass). Their policy is not to search 12 and under children. I would imagine that a fourteen or fifteen year old girl would be just a tad bit concerned about her privates being searched by some agent in public. Now what about older women who wear pads due to incontenance? Up against the wall? Just like prison?
It is time to get over this Policical Correctness Crap and recognise the enemy for who they are. Check out the policies and procedures that the Israilies use. You don’t hunt Polar Bears in Antartica.

Nov 15, 2010 4:37pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ddhinnyc wrote:
Contact the TSA’s Ombudsman about the violation of your civil rights at airports. Find out who the “determined enemy” Janet Napolitano keeps referring to is, and demand that she be fired and that this invasion of privacy stops immediately!

To contact the TSA’s Ombudsman, phone 1-571-227-2383 or 1-877-266-2837 toll-free.

E-mail: TSA.Ombudsman@dhs.gov

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Senate hearing to take place on TSA screening on Wed. Nov. 17th.

Questions needing answers:

1) What proof do you have that naked body scanners are not a danger to a person’s health?

2) You say naked body scanners do not store images. Is that true? If a person is detected by full-body imaging to have explosives on his person, what evidence would you present at trial proving that image existed images are “destroyed”?

3) Are women who are wearing Muslim garb ever required to go through a naked body scanner? Yes or no? Are you telling me that their religion would allow their nude image to appear before an unknown man of unknown religion?

4) Are Muslims specifically provided with TSA agents who are Muslim to conduct their physical groin and breast searches? Can Christians who opt for a pat-down request a Christian TSA screener?

5) The TSA’s website says passengers who feel their civil rights have been violated can e-mail the TSA and file a complaint. Who determines whether the passenger’s rights were or were not violated? If the passenger’s rights were found to be violated, what recourse does the passenger have? What specific damages can the passenger be entitled to?

6) Janet Napolitano said in her newspaper article in USA Today, “We face a determined enemy.” She refuses to say who that “determined enemy” is. Who, specifically, is this “determined enemy” she keeps mentioning?

Nov 15, 2010 4:57pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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