TSA promises more aggressive airport pat-downs

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No one dared give former TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger an aggressive pat-down when he visited Atlanta in 2015. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

If being frisked by a stranger makes you frisky, I’ve got some good news.

The Transportation Security Administration is warning police departments that more aggressive pat-down procedures may result in increased complaints from airline passengers.

The more invasive screenings have already started. They are needed, the federal agency says, to “reduce the cognitive burden” on its employees.

I guess hiring smarter employees wasn’t an option.

The more physical search, for those passengers “randomly” selected to have one before boarding a plane, replaces five separate kinds of pat-downs previously used.

A 2015 Department of Homeland Security study determined TSA employees would do a better job if they had only one type of pat-down to choose from instead of five.

“When we had multiple ways of doing the pat-down search it was a little bit complex and depending on the individual there were some inconsistencies in how it was applied,” said TSA Federal Security Director Aaron Batt. “Having one way of doing it creates consistency across the board so that if you’re a passenger, you know what to expect every time.”

The 2015 DHS study deduced cognitively-burdened TSA employees missed discovering potential weapons and explosives on passengers more than 95 percent of the time. That is not a typo. During tests by DHS agents, the people tasked with stopping terrorists from getting aboard airplanes with weapons failed 67 of 70 times.

The TSA refused to describe how invasive searches will be.

But, if you have the misfortune of setting off an alarm while being scanned, know that the standardized procedure allows TSA employees to use their palms and fingers in a “private screening area.” You can request the pat-down be observed by a witness or in a public area.

NPR political analyst Angela Rye isn’t a fan of TSA procedures. She said she was “thoroughly traumatized” by “unwanted touching” and wrote an opinion piece on CNN with the headline “Dear TSA: The country is not safer because you grab vaginas.”

I’ve been patted down a couple of times and didn’t think anything of it. But I’d argue women are more likely to be targeted by hands than men.

Who does the TSA pick for “random” pat-downs.

According to a TSA document released in 2015 by The Intercept, TSA employees were scoring passengers with a 92-point checklist.

The following would get you some extra attention:

  • complaining too much about the TSA screening process
  • yawning in an exaggerated fashion
  • having a pale face from shaving recently
  • wearing improper clothes for the environment

You were considered less dangerous if you appear to be a woman over 55, a man over 65, or married and over 55.

Do pat-downs make flights any safer? That’s debatable. The TSA has not claimed to have stopped any terror attacks and their annual “greatest catches” lists include unusual items like liquor bottles full of seahorses instead of explosives.

In 2016, the TSA did manage to seize 3,391 guns from carry-on luggage. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson led the way with 198 gun seizures. Yet, I don’t recall any guns or gun owners being linked to terror plots.

Does that sounds like a lot of guns? It’s not.

The TSA screened 738 million passengers in 2016, according to their data. The TSA budget for 2016 was more than $7 billion dollars. Math tells us the TSA charges taxpayers about $10 per screened passenger and $2 million per seized gun.

Getting paid for doing almost nothing is a great business model. Unfortunately, only government is allowed to corner the “security theater” market.


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