TSA Bans Groping, Adds 'Visual Searches'
by Eileen Dover
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., Nov. 24, 2010 — The Transportation Safety Administration will no longer allow its agents to touch airline passengers who decline enhanced full-body x-ray scans, TSA Director Pat Downes announced today.
Public opposition to full-body pat-downs boiled over when a video of a TSA agent running his hands over a shirtless autistic 8-year-old boy was posted online by a Utah college student.
"TSA frisking is a thing of the past, even when the inspector is of the same gender as the passenger," Downes said at the headquarters of San Francisco Gay and Advocates and Defenders, where her agency was holding an event to recruit new agents. Amid audible sighs of disappointment, several applicants immediately left a line where they had been waiting.
TSA Legal Affairs Specialist Al S. Vizbel took the stand to discuss an agreement with the ACLU, which had threatened to sue the agency over the constitutionality of pat-downs.
"Our agreement allows us to conduct pat-downs only when we have probable cause or a search warrant," he said. "Passengers who refuse computer-enhanced body scans will now be required to submit to unclothed full-body visual searches, which will include body cavity searches of passengers who seem suspicious or who offer any degree of resistance."
As Vizbel spoke, several applicants got back in line and were joined by two dozen others.
TSA Medical Affairs Specialist Dr. Steven Sumey said he has ordered hundreds of special instruments that agents can use to conduct cavity searches without actually touching passengers.
"We will be using colonoscopes, sigmoidoscopes and speculums," he said. "Or maybe it's specula. We also have tiny cameras that can be inserted into the jugular vein and threaded down through the aorta to see what's really in a person's heart."
The TSA had come under criticism after it announced in October that all airline passengers would be required to undergo full-body scans that showed in intimate detail each passenger's body parts.
Many passengers declined the scans, especially after the TSA admitted that agents were collecting images for private use and emailing them among themselves as well as to media outlets, including websites that specialize in revealing photographs of celebrities. Initial scanning rules were especially lax at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, after images of celebrities found their way to Star, Hustler and National Enquirer magazines.
"Many of my friends in the movie industry don't mind showing everything," said former furniture salesman turned Hollywood insider I. Keanu D'Maudelle, "but they want to be paid, especially when these enhanced x-ray images are earning millions for publishers."
He said some of the newer movie stars were bothered more by concerns that the public might discover they can't afford their own private jets.
Six TSA agents at New York's LaGuardia Airport were fired for staging a gambling contest based on guessing the size of passengers' private parts. The agency also cleaned up an entire wall that had been covered with body images. After Agent Aiken C. Goode sued the TSA for interfering with his First Amendment rights, the agency was forced to reinstate him and his colleagues and reconstruct what had been nicknamed "The Wall of Shame"
Still other passengers began refusing the scans when they learned that the back-scatter x-ray machines subjected their skin to more carcinogenic radiation that standard medical x-rays.
Meanwhile, job applications at the agency skyrocketed, which TSA Personnel Director I.C. Ahl blamed on high unemployment. The spike in applications ended only when the agency agreed to restrict pat-downs and x-ray scans to inspectors of the same gender as the passengers. Inexplicably, job applications rose in the Bay Area, prompting the agency to transfer its personnel department to San Francisco.
"Our move proved to be a wise one," Ahl said. "It made it possible for us to address the concerns of particularly sensitive passengers, such as transvestites, pre-op transexuals, post-op transexuals and bisexuals because we were able to match them up with inspectors with similar characteristics."
Despite the precaution, criticism increased as passengers complained about being groped by inspectors. Congress threatened to take action against the TSA after the video of the shirtless boy in Utah surfaced on YouTube.
President Obama quickly came to the TSA's defense, praising the "sharp-eyed inspector" who had noticed the boy's suspiciously baggy shirt.
"We must prove to the world that America would never use racial, age, gender or religious profiling," he said. "If all we did was search probable terrorists, we would be hated in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Indonesia.
"Those terrorists are smarter than most people think, even though they live in caves. I would be surprised if they did not have plans to recruit an autistic Caucasian child to carry a bomb onto an aircraft. For two years now I have asked the TSA to be especially careful to search anybody who seems the most unlikely to be a terrorist because that's who the terrorists will use to commit their next act of horror."
Among that group was Cathy Bossi, a breast cancer survivor who was forced to hand her prosthetic breast to a TSA inspector who discovered the possible bomb while groping her after she refused to subject herself to the same radiation that might have caused her tumor.
"A terrorist could place explosive liquid in a breast implant," said TSA explosives expert Anita M. Issoj. "Therefore, we believe we have probable cause to conduct deep-tissue searches of any woman who has or appears to have a breast implant."
Another woman is suing the TSA after an agent pulled down her blouse, exposing her naked breasts for all to see in the inspection area.
"I wouldn't have sued," said the plaintiff, a North Carolina debutante named Miss Bea Haven, "but then they laughed about my breasts, circulated the video and then refused even to respond to my complaint."
Robin Kassner filed a $10 million lawsuit after TSA employees gave her a concussion and permanent brain damage after they found a bottle of contact lens cleaner in her baggage.
"Passengers who are stupid enough to buy lens cleaner when saliva works just fine ought to be beaten up," said fellow passenger, a thin model named Anna Rekseah.
Quote of the Day
"... at this point, TSA in consultation with counterterrorism experts have indicated to me that the procedures that they have been putting in place are the only ones right now that they consider to be effective ...." — President Barack Obama, Nov. 20, 2010