< Sec. Napolitano: Holiday Travel Comes With More Pat Downs


Friday, November 19, 2010

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Secretary thanks for being with us.


HOCKENBERRY: How much pushback have you gotten on these scanners so far? 

NAPOLITANO: Well I think the vast majority of the travelling public understands that this is a safety and security matter, that what these scanners allow us to do is to find liquids and powders and gels that walk-through metal detectors can't find. And these are the kind of liquids and powders that those who seek to take down an aircraft can use in an explosive. A few things about the intro if you don't mind that I would change. One is of course that the new scanners have been improved significantly over the earlier iterations, show a very blurred image with privacy screens and filters built in. And the person viewing the image is not at the gate. So they can never associate the image with a person. The image is not retained or transferred in any way. Secondly, the pat-downs that are done are done to resolve things that ping on the new machines and right now we have the new machines in fewer than 20 percent of the air lanes that the travelling public uses. They're really the next iteration and just an objectively better technology for us to use. 

HOCKENBERRY: I've actually seen them in action in an airport in Michigan. They are kind of blurry as you say. In the interest of full disclosure here, you know I use a wheelchair when I travel. And I've had to do a pat-down with no option really except to go in a private room, since the beginning. I've been doing this for years. From my perspective, it feels like a lot of whining for people to go off the rails on these new scanners. If you can't go through a metal detector, there does have to be some way of figuring out what you can conceal or are not concealing, right? 

NAPOLITANO: That's right and actually for people who have metal joints or implants or things like that the scanners are better because that's easily resolvable and right now metal detectors alert all the time. You know the TSO officers are the last lines of protection in the airports. In other words, there are many things that happen to assure the security of passengers and passenger aircraft before you get to that gate. But that gate is the last place we have to check to make sure that things that could be used as explosive material on a plane are not getting on the plane.

HOCKENBERRY: Do you like this technology or is it something that could be better done if we were to agree to pat-downs but we have all sorts of moral issues with that. If we put those aside would it just be a lot cheaper and easier to screen people? 

NAPOLITANO: No, I think the technology is actually a good thing because it's quicker. Pat-downs do take more time. 

HOCKENBERRY: What about all the worries about cargo? I mean the latest terrorism headlines outside the business in Germany--and even that is related to something in luggage, not something going through the security screening lines. What upgrades are needed there? 

NAPOLITANO: Well we've significantly upgraded the whole issue of luggage and cargo over the last years. And we've also made some changes in light of what happened out of Yemen just a few weeks ago. So that 100 percent in domestic air travel is screened before it's placed in the hold. 

HOCKENBERRY: And do you expect to be flying this holiday season? 

NAPOLITANO: I will be flying. And before we rolled this technology out, I went through the AIT machine, and I've gone through the pat-down. And yes, it is a more invasive type of pat-down than people perhaps are used to. But it's also a better pat-down from a security perspective in terms of helping us make sure that no one is carrying on to a plane something that can be used as an explosive.   Hockenberry: One final question. It's a little sensitive, and I know it comes from before you were at the Homeland Security Department. But whenever I get patted-down, they always say at the TSA "when I come to a sensitive area I'm going to use the back of my hand." Now that just seems like something some federal bureaucrat came up with, because if I were to come up to somebody and use the back of my hand to pat them on the butt or something, they're going to be just as offended as if I use the front of my hand. Who came up with "the back of my hand is OK" kind of thing? 

NAPOLITANO: Well the back of the hand is standard law enforcement pat-down technique. And it's done in a way so that the screeners themselves are not accused of groping. 

HOCKENBERRY: I see. So that goes way back in law enforcement. 

NAPOLITANO: Oh yeah absolutely. I used to be a prosecutor and it's standard in law enforcement training. 

HOCKENBERRY: Thank you so much for resolving that for me. Because I always want to look at the pat-downer and say if I did that to a woman with the back of my hand she would whack me over the head just as much as if it was the front of my hand. 

NAPOLITANO: The back of the hand is commonly viewed as less invasive. And what are called the TSOs, the officers who are on the front line, I would just ask your listeners: Look, they've got a tough job. They're the last line of protection for aircraft. We ask for passengers as well. This is being done. Everyone on the plane has to rely on the fact that everyone else on the plane is safe. 

HOCKENBERRY: And these TSA jobs, these are not fun jobs, having to pat-down all of humanity on your weekend. 

NAPOLITANO: Think about it. These are just people doing their jobs, and that just helps us make sure that the travelling public remains safe. 

HOCKENBERRY: Well Secretary Napolitano thank you for settling that for me and for speaking with our listeners this morning.

NAPOLITANO: I'm pleased to do so. 


Janet Napolitano

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja, Kristen Meinzer and Sitara Nieves