Sec. Napolitano: Holiday Travel Comes With More Pat Downs

Friday, November 19, 2010


A sign at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint instructs passengers about the use of the full-body scanner at O'Hare International Airport on March 15, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty)

The Transportation Security Administration has begun more thorough pat-downs at airport security checkpoints just weeks before holidays' heavy travel season. Many passengers have already complained of inappropriate contact and others are upset with the intimacy of the search. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano explains the new search procedures and the full-body scanning machines that have been set up in airports. She and the TSA are asking passengers to be patient and cooperate.

"The vast majority of the traveling public understands that this is a safety and security measure," Napolitano said. Read a full transcript

But a number of passengers have called for the government to change the policy and one group is protesting the pat downs and full-body scanners.


Janet Napolitano

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja, Kristen Meinzer and Sitara Nieves

Comments [11]

Ray from Acton, MA

I know there is talk about pilots having immunity from the screening process...I'm not sure if I would like to see that happen...if it does what stops someone who is looking to cause harm, aquire a pilots uniform and phony badge and get through secureity on a wink...

Let's hope that doesn't happen

Nov. 22 2010 09:46 AM
J Harms from Oklahoma

Pre 9-11, I realized how unsafe American airport were when I traveled/lived outside of the US. When I would go to American airport, anyone could walk to the gate and that made me nervous. When I would go to many international airports, outside the US, I would have to show my ticket and passport just to get in the door. Next I would pass through a metal detector and then my bags would searched by x-ray machines before I would even check-in at the airline ticket counters. After passing through immigration, my carry on luggage would then go trough another x-ray check, I would pass through another metal detector and then I would get in line for a gender appropriate PAT DOWN. Pat downs are not sexual in nature, they are for security. I was never fondled or made to feel "dirty", and I was under the age of 18. And you know what, I'm still here! Every flight I boarded made it safely to its destination. Pat downs are about safety.

Nov. 19 2010 12:09 PM
D Lopez from Miami

This is a disturbing issue covered by a disappointing interview.

1) Let's get beyond the fog of technology. These scanners are performing *strip searches*. All the technology has done is make it faster to strip large numbers of people and make it ambiguous to the scannee what is happening to them. If the scanning machine had a monitor inside so the scannee could see exactly what the TSO sees, support for this would drop to zero. So it's fair to say that this system only works through obscuring the truth from its participants.

2) I would have liked the interviewer to have asked Napolitano about the screening of children, and how both available options are unpleasant. As a parent, I'm disturbed that our choices are limited to the creation of imagery that could potentially be classified as child porn, or else a vigorous physical inspection in a setting that is not exactly calming to a child by an agent who is not incentivized to handle the situation with appropriate sensitivity.

3) The TSA uses security as an excuse for providing no process transparency. In order to maximize the number of people using the scanners, they purposefully fail to provide signage to communicate procedures and options to travelers. Pat-down procedures are not publicized, supposedly so that terrorists would not be able to find weaknesses in the protocol, but also serving to make it impossible to know what a TSO is allowed to do and what they aren't. And in order to maximize compliance generally, they prohibit photography or video in the security area, eliminating a citizen's power to hold TSOs accountable or to even let other passengers know what they can expect to experience.

An example of how this works is that Napolitano can claim in the interview that pat-downs are performed with the back of the hand even though there are numerous testimonials of TSOs cupping testicles (see and other intimate body parts. Officials can deny that the process includes that, while passengers have no ability to correct abuses.

TSA and its staff are incentivized to try to encourage maximal use of the scanners while disincentivizing opt-outs. The result is an environment conducive to having TSOs perform putative pat-downs that bear no relationship to determining whether the person is a security threat. Compliance becomes the goal, rather than security.

The cumulative harm done our security bureaucracy through millions of daily injustices is certainly disturbing. And the attitudes about civil liberties that have gotten us to this point indicate that there is more to come.

Nov. 19 2010 11:39 AM
Robert Kuntz, Esq. from

Mr. Hockenberry:

As a former journalist – I was a reporter for 12 years in early 80s through 90s – and lifetime avid public radio listener, I have long admired your work. Some of your reporting from the Middle East was nothing short of heroic.

Today, however, you’ve got nothing of which to be proud.

On “The Takeaway,” you discussed airport security, backscatter scanners and “enhanced pat downs.” You might have explored any of several important issues:

• Widespread health concerns which have caused leading scientific advocacy groups and the largest airline pilots organization to advise against their use.

• Systematic overreaching of the TSA in detaining passengers either at their whim or for “investigations” far outside aircraft security, excesses which have lead to at least three active lawsuits by the ACLU and scores of private actions.

• Economic impact on the airline industry as meaningful numbers of flyers choose to become drivers.

• The fact, admitted to by TSA’s chief to no less a news outlet than Atlantic Monthly, that the pat downs are designed to be as unpleasant as possible so that travelers will be discouraged from opting out of the scanners.

• News today that Orlando is opting out of the TSA altogether and hiring private security.

• The fact that the incoming chairman of the Transportation Committee considers TSA so broken he wants all U.S. airports to do the same. (Most folks don’t even know airports can opt out ofTSA.Did you?)

• The fact scanner images ARE in stored and can be associated with travelers and,in at least two instances have been released.

• The choice faced by parents to allow their children to either be imaged in a way that would lead to an arrest in any other context or to be groped (genitals, breasts and buttocks) by strangers.

• The fact former Homeland security chief Michael Chertoff is now employed as the chief lobbyist for RapiScan, the company who makes the scanners being put in place as a policy he championed. His activities immediately before leaving his post, and as an “expert” advocate for scanner use since, are a classic conflict of interest.

• The overarching failure of all this security theater which – at its most benign – is a dangerous waste of resources that does not address the present threat. Taking nude photos of American kids doesn’t make us safer, nor do enhanced pat downs of your grandmother. We are not even making the fatal choice between “security and liberty” that Franklin warned about, because none of this actually enhances security.

None of these issues is theoretical or arcane. They are at the forefront of this debate and five minutes on the Internet would have given you a dozen professional, credible subjects with whom to speak.

Instead, you chose to act as credulous straight man for Ms. Napolitano. Then you dismiss all the forgoing concerns – and insult the millions of Americans who share them – as “whining.”

Not your best day, Mr. Hockenberry.

Nov. 19 2010 10:41 AM
William Furr from Boston, MA

John, why have you endured years of pat downs instead of standing up for your rights and dignity? I think it's absolutely absurd what you have been through, and a violation of your essential rights and dignity.

The "security theater" travelers endure at airports is ridiculous. The terrorists are achieving their goals simply by encouraging us to enact more and more draconian "security measures". They're winning one groin pat-down at a time.

The only thing that needs to be done to make air travel safe is for the government to announce, "Remain calm and carry on. The threat is highly exaggerated."

Unfortunately, it's not in the best interest of the fear-mongers in government to have a calm, informed citizenry. If they want to hang on to power, they need us afraid and submissive.

I have found all the post 9/11 security measures to be terribly obnoxious, and pat-downs and full-body scanners are the last straw for me. No more flying. The train company treats me like a human and not a weapon, and has lower environmental impacts as a bonus.

Nov. 19 2010 10:04 AM
John Lewis from Royal Oak, Michigan

I am deeply disturbed by John Hockenberry’s comment that those who object to the new invasive TSA procedures are whiners. While he may not mind getting groped himself, he should keep in mind that many people do including former victims of sexual abuse. Since when is it okay for the government to touch you in private areas?

Nov. 19 2010 09:28 AM
Andrew Markoff from Hallandale Beach FL

John Hockenberry's interview with Janet Napolitano never once asked if the body scanners are actually effective at preventing terrorists acts. Furthermore, he never asked about who owns the technology and who is invested in it. There has been considerable enough controversy regarding former Bush administration official Micheal Chertoff and his financial ties to the company producing the scanners to warrant Hockenberry questioning Napolitano about that.

If a "bomb-sniffing" dog comes around while you're at a security checkpoint in the airport and the dog sniffs your crotch in front of everyone, you may assume that it's a price to pay for flying. But what if it turns out that the dog can sniff for nothing more than Milk Bones? Would you still say that it's all for the best in regards to your safety? How about if the dog is owned by the head of TSA, who gets paid a lot of money for every sniff? Feel safer?

Let's not jump to conclusions or call people whiners. Let's instead ask the pertinent questions.

Nov. 19 2010 09:23 AM
Randy Stegmeyer from Ann Arbor

How many terrorists have been caught with TSA screenings? None. We are the only country in the world that demands shoe removal before boarding a plane. How many shoe bombs have gone off world-wide? None. Terrorism is prevented with Intelligence work. There is no way of completely eliminating the risk of terrorism if we want to live in a "free society". The only way to eliminate all risk is to live in a police state and give up all privacy rights and freedoms. Virtual strip searches will not make us safer. They will however enlarge the ever growing police state.

Nov. 19 2010 09:21 AM

I have a prosthetic leg and I travel 75-100,000 miles a year. I have been scanned, wanded, searched, forced to remove my leg, and now x-rayed. My problem is not solely with the everchanging procedures and untrained TSA employees using them, but that it is a complete waste of time, effort, money and security. If I fly 50 times a year, why are you wasting your time on me?

Nov. 19 2010 09:20 AM
Mike from Brooklyn, NY

John Hockenberry, champion of civil rights:

"It doesn't affect me, so who cares? Whiners!"

Nov. 19 2010 07:19 AM
George Meredith MD

Janet Napolitano and the Pat Down Creeps

Why do I feel so uneasy when I watch Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano trying to explain to us why it is necessary to repeatedly irradiate the airline pilots with her new total body scanners? And to pat down little old ladies with ileostomy bags adhered to their torsos. Is it because when I look at Napolitano, a lawyer who has never had a job outside the government, I just get the creeps.

Or is it because she doesn’t trust our veterans who, unlike her, have never placed her life on the line for our country. Or was it her puny excuses about the underwear bomber on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 into Detroit on the day after Christmas, 2009.

Maybe it’s just the image of Napolitano, with her short haircut, looking more like a pro football defensive tackle….looking more like a tackle rather than whatever she’s supposed to be. Anyway, she doesn’t trust the veterans who defended this country. And she doesn’t trust the airline pilots with whom we trust our lives each time we fly. But we are supposed to trust her and her strange acting sidekick, TSA Administrator, John Pistole. Something just doesn’t add up.

Bingo! I know what it is! It’s the ULDs! You know those aluminum half clam shells that are used to containerize luggage and air freight…Unit Loading Devices. You see, by 2002 Telair International had developed and the FAA had successfully tested HULDs. Hardened Unit Loading Devices made of Kevlar. The same material used to make bullet proof vests.

HULDs can contain incredible bomb blasts. And for the money that these creeps, and their predecessors, have spent on fluoroscopes, scanners, an entire army of poorly trained, often times rude, screeners…for all the tax dollars that these creeps have blown on these anti constitutional devices, why we could have equipped every airliner in the world with HULDs. And what with the airliner cockpit doors now being made of Kevlar as well, the equation is so different than it was on 9.11.01.

So who do we trust? The veterans who defended this country and the professionals who fly the airliners? Or the creeps who missed the boat on the HULDs and insist on irradiating the airline crews and patting down little old ladies with ileostomy sacs?

To learn more search: George Meredith MD Comments and search: 911: George Bush and the Saudis

George Meredith MD
Virginia Beach

Nov. 19 2010 12:31 AM

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