Every few days a non-story seems to make its way into the headlines and go viral through the internet, generally ignoring major facts and factors. This week’s non-story that has become a major story once again involves the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), there are many valid stories that can be reported on regarding the TSA, but the majority of them don’t make for great sound bites, allow for attention grabbing headlines or play on human emotion.
Last month as the Drexel Family passed through the TSA screening checkpoint at New Orleans’s Louis Armstrong International Airport, Anna, a six-year-old girl, ‘alarmed’ while passing through the Millimeter Wave Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanner.
Once through the scanner Anna was stopped by a TSA Transportation Security Officer (TSO) and given a pat down to ensure she was not concealing anything under her clothing. The TSA’s standard policy and procedure is to pat down those who ‘alarm’ as they pass through an AIT scanner.
While the media and internet forums fan the outrage, politicians go one step further in their outrage … however one politician in particular, U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, the Chairman of The House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense & Foreign Operations is “furious.” Rep. Chaffetz’s furor over the TSA patting down a six year old girl who alarmed while passing through an AIT scanner is noteworthy for one significant reason … it would appear than the Chairman of The House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense & Foreign Operations, has his facts on TSA policy wrong.
Rep. Chaffetz’s has stated, “This conduct is in clear violation of TSA’s explicit policy not to conduct thorough pat-downs on children under the age of 13.” The fact is that the TSA has no such policy.
The TSA’s policy regarding the enhanced pat down of children is that TSO’s will perform a “modified pat down” on children aged 12 and under should they ‘alarm’ as they pass through an AIT scanner.
In watching the video of the pat down Anna Drexel received, it appears the six year old received a modified ‘enhanced pat down,’ not a complete pat down.
What does the video of Anna Drexel’s pat down show me? It shows a TSA TSO who was calm, polite and professional. This TSO explained what she was doing at all times to the child and kept a demeanor kept the six-year-old calm. As the TSA TSO moved around the child she had Anna’s mother move as well, which served a dual purpose:
(1) It allowed Anna to have her mother to her side or in front of her at all times
(2) It allowed Anna’s mother to watch the entire pat down at all times from the angle in which it was occurring.
A flaw in the TSA’s policy that a ‘modified pat down’ be carried out on children 12 and younger is that most people, including many frequent flyers, have no idea what a full ‘enhanced pat down’ actually looks like to know what a ‘modified pat down’ looks like. This lack of defining pat down procedure leaves room for observers to make judgments calls on what is occurring during a pat ‘modified pat down’ of a child.
Looking past the TSA’s misguided policy and procedure, the agency’s lack of consistency, ignoring the agency’s ineffective implementation of security layers and live deployment of security practices and just focusing on the potential threat … the fact is a six year old girl may be an unwitting threat.
What exactly does a terrorist look like?
Prior to September 11 2001 the most violent and devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil had been carried out by Timothy McVeigh, a 27 year old white man, with blond hair, blue eyes, from upstate New York, the recipient of the Bronze Star for his acts of combat bravery during the Gulf War, while serving the U.S. Army.
On the surface there would be no indications that Timothy McVeigh would be responsible blowing up a Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the related unprovoked murder of 168 people, 19 of which were children in a day care center, and the further injuring of 450 others.
Given that the stereotypical “All American” Timothy McVeigh referred to the murdered children as ‘collateral damage’ is it hard to imagine someone determined to blow up an airliner using a child as a weapon?
When a person alarms walking through a metal detector or AIT scanner they should be searched. While the current way in which those who alarm AIT scanners are search may be ineffective, the fact is a search must be carried out and carried in meeting the current policy and procedure.
If the public and politicians have a problem with the current TSA policy and procedure … and there are many significant problems with TSA policy, procedure, front line consistency and relevance in execution of mission … they need to devise solution or press their politicians to put pressure on the TSA to research and implement new policy and procedures.
I can find many faults with how the TSA executes security at airports in the United States, but performing a modified pat down in a quick and professional manner on a child that alarmed walked through AIT scanner is not one of those faults.
Below is a video of the TSA patting down a six year old.