Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Backlash over pat-downs sparks rethink

CONFLICTED:US Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole said his agency would work to make its screening methods as minimally invasive as possible

AP, WASHINGTON AND DENVER, COLORADO

The head of the agency responsible for US airport security, facing protests from travelers and pressure from the White House, appeared to give ground on Sunday on his position that there would be no change in policies regarding invasive passenger screening procedures.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) head John Pistole said in a statement that the agency would work to make screening methods “as minimally invasive as possible,” although he gave no indication that screening changes were imminent.

The statement came just hours after Pistole, in a TV interview, said that while the full-body scans and pat-downs could be intrusive and uncomfortable, the high threat level required their use.

“No, we’re not changing the policies,” he told CNN’s State of the Union.

Pistole said that, as in all nationwide security programs, “there is a continual process of refinement and adjustment to ensure that best practices are applied.”

Still, he pointed to the alleged attempt by a Nigerian with explosives in his underwear to try to bring down an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight last Christmas.

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

In his earlier TV appearance, Pistole appeared to shrug off statements by US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the agency would look for ways to alter screening techniques that some passengers say are invasions of privacy.

Obama said in Lisbon on Saturday that he had asked TSA officials whether there’s a less intrusive way to ensure travel safety.

“I understand people’s frustrations,” he said, adding that he had told the TSA that “you have to constantly refine and measure whether what we’re doing is the only way to assure the American people’s safety.”

Clinton, appearing on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, said she thought “everyone, including our security experts, are looking for ways to diminish the impact on the traveling public” and that “striking the right balance is what this is about.”

She, for one, wouldn’t like to submit to a security pat-down.

“Not if I could avoid it. No. I mean, who would?” Clinton told CBS’ Face the Nation.

“Clearly it’s invasive, it’s not comfortable,” Pistole said of the scans and pat-downs during the TV interview, adding: “If we are to detect terrorists, who have again proven innovative and creative in their design and implementation of bombs that are going to blow up airplanes and kill people, then we have to do something that prevents that.”

Representative John Mica, the Republican who is set to become Transportation Committee chairman when Republicans take over the House of Representatives in January, differed with the approach.

“I don’t think the rollout was good and the application is even worse. This does need to be refined. But he’s saying it’s the only tool and I believe that’s wrong,” Mica, a longtime critic of the TSA, said on CNN.

ONE OPTION?

Meanwhile, it’s a special kind of underwear — with a strategically placed fig leaf design — and the designer says it’ll get you through the airport screeners with your dignity intact.

Jeff Buske says his invention uses a powdered metal that protects people’s privacy when undergoing medical or security screenings.

Buske of Nevada-Rocky Flats Gear says the underwear’s inserts are thin and conform to the body’s contours, making it difficult to hide anything beneath them. The mix of tungsten and other metals do not set off metal detectors.

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