What Does The TSA Mean By “Resistance” In A Pat Down?

Yesterday reader Ron Bonner asked “exactly what [does] TSA means by “resistance” when telling a passenger they will feel up to their “resistance” during a pat down. I am interested in knowing if a standard TSA Pat Down requires the screener to make physical contact with a persons penis, scrotum, labia, anal region, or breasts. ”  This questions stems from many Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Transportation Security Officers (TSO) informing passengers they may feel “some resistance” before an enhanced pat down.


This is an interesting question; so today I sought answers from the TSA. I had hoped that a real description existed, as I had not seen one, however the officer reply from the agency is, “we cannot share with you the definition of resistance as it would be considered sensitive security information.”


Not at all being satisfied with the official answer from the agency I sought answers from a Transportation Security Officer and a Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director (DAFSD). The front line TSO described the term “resistance” as “enough pressure to ensure I am feeling if something is hidden inside a person’s clothing.”


The answer from the DAFSD was a little more detailed, “The term resistance is a non-definable term because every TSA Officer has to use their own judgment. Personally, I believe resistance is really a term for the Officer more than the passenger, although the passenger is feeling the pressure. The resistance is the pressure an Officer will feel in their fingers and palms when feeling around a person to determine if something is hidden beneath their clothing. Unfortunately screening guidelines require Officers to feel between a person’s legs, possibly under breasts and their posterior to determine if something is hidden.  From experience I know Officers have in fact located hidden items under a traveler’s scrotum, under a woman’s breasts and in their posterior. Admittedly none of the items I am personally aware of were terrorism related items, although we have found razors and narcotics this way. Narcotics are not what we are searching for, a smart passenger would just hide them in a medicine bottle and place it in their baggage, but if we find them we have to report them,


The resistance pressure a person will experience during an enhanced pat down is much like going to a doctor for a hernia test, the amount of force depends on the hands of the person pushing on you. “


Why the TSA believes defining what “resistance” as sensitive security information, seems evasive and unnecessary if a true definition exists. The likely answer as to why the TSA won’t discuss the definition of resistance, in the context of a passenger pat down, is the agency has never clearly defined what resistance is, although it is a term commonly used by TSOs when speaking to travelers just before patting them down. Failure to completely define a common term used in the process of screening thousands of people a day is easier to bury in a lack of transparency than leave the agency open to further scrutiny and potential litigation when TSOs push a little harder than defined by policy.


Happy Flying!





  1. Thanks Fish. Sadly the responses you received is very much what I expected.

    TSA is clearly a cowardly organization, afraid to simply state what a passenger screening encompasses, and then claims that the traveler agreed to those procedures even while we have no clear understanding of that supposed agreement.

    I am certainly no civics expert but my limited education tells me that TSA is not how America is suppose to operate.

    In my mind TSA and its employees are nothing less than traitors.

  2. Sommer Gentry however told us just yesterday that TSA is required to touch a person’s genitals:

    “As for the “resistance” question, the TSA Privacy Officer (do I even need to say that this is a shocking oxymoron and self-contradictory title?) Peter Pietra confirmed to me when I met him that yes, the official instructions to a TSA screener are that they must put their hands directly on your genitalia in a patdown.”

  3. I know what Sommer posted and I believe she has it 100% right.

    My beef is with TSA. TSA claims we agree to the screening methods TSA uses but TSA will not tell us exactly what it is they intend to do. TSA’s could very well do a cavity check and travelers would have no complaint since we have according to TSA already agreed to the screening process even without knowing what that process entails.

    Question, would you agree to a contract or any other requirement without knowing what it contained or requires of you? That is exactly what TSA requires of travelers and it is wrong, unconscionably wrong and a clear violation of our civil rights and the laws of this country.

    Laws and regulations can never be secret in a free country.

    There is no place in America for TSA or its employees.

  4. @Ron Bonner:

    “Question, would you agree to a contract or any other requirement without knowing what it contained or requires of you? That is exactly what TSA requires of travelers and it is wrong, unconscionably wrong and a clear violation of our civil rights and the laws of this country.”

    I agree completely. We can consent to a TSA search when we don’t know what we are consenting to.

  5. Edit: correction:

    We cannot consent to a TSA search when we don’t know what we are consenting to.

  6. Thank you for discussing this very important issue that the media have simply refused to address. Are screeners intentionally touching people’s genitals through their clothes or not? Is it standard procedure or a horrible mistake when I distinctly feel a strangers’ fingers on my labia and clitoris? The answer is, unequivocally, that this is the TSA’s intention – to lay hands on your sex organs.

    No one *can* consent to the TSA’s unwelcome sexual touching, for at least three reasons:

    (1) The most basic aspect of consent is to know what one is consenting to. The TSA does not disclose the search procedure at all until it is too late to refuse the search. Many people still believe that the TSA does not touch genitals, and the TSA has steadfastly refused to describe exactly what will be touched and how in a patdown.

    (2) Consent must be freely given in the absence of coercion. TSA clerks frequently coerce passengers into sexually deviant acts by saying, “Do you want to fly today?” If a man physically bars my path into my workplace every day and says he won’t move unless he can put his hands up between my legs, is there any person in the world who would say I have consented to let him do it because I need to work to feed my family?

    (3) Minor children are being patted down, including the sexual touching, with or without their or their parents’ consent. Someone under 16 or 18 is not legally able to consent to sexual touching in most states, nor can their parents consent to it for them.

  7. Google “Jeffery Goldberg TSA resistance”

    “”Yes, but starting tomorrow, we’re going to start searching your crotchal area” — this is the word he used, “crotchal” — and you’re not going to like it.”

    “What am I not going to like?” I asked.

    “We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance,” he explained.

    “Resistance?” I asked.

    “Your testicles,” he explained.

    ‘That’s funny,” I said, “because ‘The Resistance’ is the actual name I’ve given to my testicles.”

    He answered, “Like ‘The Situation,’ that guy from ‘Jersey Shore?'”

    Yes, exactly, I said. (I used to call my testicles “The Insurgency,” but those assholes in Iraq ruined the term.)

  8. In my opinion, “resistance” is the point that the traveler says “NO, Enough is enough and I’m not putting up with this any longer!” When we all put up this kind of “Resistance”, they will stop. And not until.

  9. I had to fly last month, first time in years. Both times I was patted down, both times they patted me from the waistband up to my neck, and then my thigh down to my ankles. They skipped about 12″ of my body and never touched my genitals. They also did not seem to care about the 9″ Craftsman torx screwdriver in my camera bag/carry on. I needed the tool to assemble a bracket that I took apart to fit in my luggage
    I don’t really understand the point of “screening” when tools like this are allowed. I mean it would not be hard to actually kill a person with a screw driver plunged deep into the human body.

  10. I have often been tempted to offer resistance to the TSA, but I try to content myself with writing scathing complaints to the agency, as well as to my elected representatives, every time that I have to deal with these clowns.

  11. Jon,

    Funny you write this, my blog post later today addresses odd issues in TSA carry on allowances, one of which is the allowance of a screw driver up to seven inches.

    Happy Flying!


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