‘Stop touching me!’ Fury as airport security staff are caught on camera searching a crying three-year-old girl
Last updated at 7:48 AM on 18th November 2010
- TSA chief defends intrusive security measures
- Security accused of putting their hands down passengers’ pants
- Hero pilot Sully Sullenberger joins chorus demanding lesser checks
The national outcry over intrusive body searches at American airports intensified today after it emerged security staff were caught on camera frisking a crying three-year-old girl.
Mandy Simon is seen sobbing and pleading with staff at Chattanooga, Tennessee airport.
She had become upset after having to have her teddy bear put through an X-ray machine and can be heard screaming: ‘Stop touching me!’
Screaming Mandy Simon, 3, was comforted by her mum, right, as the TSA worked patted her down
Her mum picked her up to comfort her as the TSA worker, blurred out, kept up the check
The incident involving Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff was captured by her television reporter father Steven Simon on his mobile phone.
‘She was a little bit scared and very cranky,’ he said during on report on his news show.
‘I want to make it very clear that there has to be some sacrifice when it comes to security at our airports.
‘But did it really have to end up like this?’
Mandy was searched after she set the metal detector off at the airport twice.
It is TSA policy to do a pat down search after the second time whatever the age of the passenger.
It has also emerged the TSA is being sued for a an incident at the Corpus Christi airport when a woman’s breasts were exposed.
An unnamed 23-year-old college student was allegedly singled out for ‘extended search procedures’ before flying in 2008.
‘As the TSA agent was frisking plaintiff, the agent pulled the plaintiff’s blouse completely down, exposing plaintiffs’ breasts to everyone in the area,’ the Amarillo Globe-News quotes the lawsuit as saying.
‘As would be expected, plaintiff was extremely embarrassed and humiliated.’
TSA chief John Pistole defended his agency and its hands-on security checks at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Tuesday in Washington
The suit said the woman filed an administrative claim against the TSA, but when they never responded, she sued.
The suit also claims staff joked about the woman’s breasts.
‘One male TSA employee expressed to the plaintiff that he wished he would have been there when she came through the first time and that ‘he would just have to watch the video,’ the lawsuit said.
In Washington the TSA defended themselves on Tuesday.
TSA chief John Pistole told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that passengers who refuse to go through a full-body scanner machine and reject a pat-down will not be allowed to board, even if they reject the in-depth security measures for religious reasons.
‘That person is not going to get on an airplane,’ Pistole said in response to a question from Republican Sen. John Ensign whether the TSA would provide exemptions for passengers whose religious beliefs do not allow them to go through a physically revealing body scan or be touched by screeners.
Civil rights groups contend the more intensive screening violates civil liberties including freedom of religion, the right to privacy and the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.
Horror stories: Both Thomas Mollman, and radio DJ Owen Stone have recounted stories where TSA staff put their hand down into their pants as part of a controversial and invasive pat down procedure at airports
The issue is getting new attention after John Tyner posted an item online saying he was thrown out of the San Diego airport for rejecting a full-body scan and pat-down groin check and instead insisting on passing through a metal detector.
Pistole acknowledged the incident was drawing wide attention but told the committee an officer involved was ‘very cool, calm, professional’ in dealing with the passenger.
One civil liberty group is urging air travelers to take part in a national opt-out day the day before Thanksgiving, refusing to go through the full-body detectors and insisting that any pat-down they receive as a result take place in full view of other passengers.
Several senators asked Pistole to address public criticism of the body-imaging machines and more intrusive pat-downs the agency is using. Pistole said the tougher screening is necessary, and that the FDA has found the imaging machines to be safe.
Pistole said his agency was working to address pilot and flight attendant concerns about the screening.
Elsewhere at least two passengers, including a 54-year-old Missouri City man, have complained about airport staff putting their hands down the front and rear of their pants – as invasive new screening measures are increasingly criticised.
Thomas Mollman, 54, said he experienced the controversial ‘pat down’ when he was trvelling through security at Fort Lauderdale Airport.
Mr Mollman, who was wearing shorts at the time of the search, said he was subjected to a ‘groping’ by a TSA officer, and he believe his experience was tantamount to sexual molestation.
He said: ‘[The officer] put his hand in between my underwear and my skin and did a 360 all the way around, touching certain sesitive points in the back and the front.’
He added: ‘This was an assault. This was no different than a sexual assault.’
The full body scanners are considered by many as both an invasion of privacy and a health risk
PASSENGER SCANNER RULES AND REGULATIONS
The TSA’s advanced imaging technology machines use two separate means of creating images of passengers – backscatter X-ray technology and millimeter-wave technology.
189 backscatter units and 152 millimeter-wave machines are in use in more than 65 airports.
The total number of imaging machines is expected to be near 1,000 by the end of 2011, according to the TSA.
The agency has previously said that the new technology is safe and protects passenger privacy.
It says: ‘Strict privacy safeguards are built into the foundation of TSA’s use of advanced imaging technology to protect passenger privacy and ensure anonymity.’
Images from the scans cannot be saved or printed, according to the TSA. Faces are blurred and agents who directly interact with passengers do not see the scans.
Under TSA rules, those who decline the scans must submit to pat-downs that include checks of the inside of travelers’ thighs and buttocks.
Radio DJ Owen Stone went further in his discription of his experience at an airport at the weekend.
The DJ, known as ‘OhDoctah’, spoke on the Alex Jones radion show, saying how he was told that the rules had been changed and was offered a private screening.
When he asked what the procedure entailed, the TSA agent responded: ‘I have to go in your waistband, I have to put my hand down your pants.’
Mr Stone said he chose to conduct the search in public, for fear that the TSA worker would be even more aggressive in a private room.
He said that the agent pulled out the waistband of his sweatpants before patting his backside and his crotch.
He said that even the TSA agent was embarrassed at what he had been told to do by his superiors, apologising profusely throughout the examination.
Mr Stone was explicit in describing the procedure, saying the TSA agent directly felt his testicles, penis and backside while his hand was inside his pants.
The backlash against the full-body scans has grown in recent weeks as the holiday travel season fast approaches.
Pilots may avoid the increasingly personal airport security checks like the body scans and genital groping pat downs.
One pilot was stopped for having a butter knife, yet pilots point out they have the biggest weapon of all – the plane – in their hands.
San Diego’s John Tyner filmed his now-famous security encouter with a cell phone, during which he told the TSA employee ‘You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested.’
He objects to full body scans for health concerns, had checked before leaving that the airport in San Diego did not have the machines, and dislikes ‘huge invasion of privacy’ they represent.
The scanners show a body’s contours on a computer stationed in a private room removed from the security checkpoints. Those who decline must submit to pat-downs that include checks of the inside of travelers’ thighs and buttocks.
Tyner ended up ejected from the airport, threatened with a $10,000 fine and did not fly.
Tyner’s health concerns are backed up by various scientists and doctors, despite TSA claims they are safe.
Top federal officials said Monday that the procedures are safe and necessary sacrifices to ward off terror attacks.
‘It’s all about security,’ Napolitano said. ‘It’s all about everybody recognising their role.’
Tyner’s cell phone video captured a fuzzy picture but clear audio of his confrontation with San Diego TSA employees over a groin pat down
POSSIBLE HEATH RISKS
‘They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays,’ Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University’s prestigious school of medicine, told AFP.
‘No exposure to X-ray is considered beneficial. We know X-rays are hazardous but we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner,’ he said.
A group of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) raised scanner health concerns in a letter sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology earlier this year.
‘While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high,’ they wrote.
That’s not how John Tyner sees it.
The software engineer posted an Internet blog over the weekend saying he had been ejected from the San Diego airport after being threatened with a fine and lawsuit for refusing the groin check.
‘I told the person that being molested should not be a condition of getting on a flight,’ the 31-year-old said in a phone interview Monday.
Tyner, who was eventually told he could not fly at all because he refused both modes of search, posted the cell phone video.
‘This is not considered a sexual assault,’ a supervisor can be heard telling him.
‘It would be if you were not the government,’ replies Tyner.
Many pilots say requiring them to go through security is ridiculous.
One 20-year airline pilot, Patrick Smith, recalled once being stopped and questioned because he had a butter knife in a bag.
‘If a pilot like me is going to be up to no good, why would he need a butter knife?’ he said. ‘I’m in control of the entire airplane!’
Walsh argued that it sends a disturbing message to passengers for them to see pilots being searched.
‘They must think, “This is the guy flying the plane. If you can’t trust the pilot who can you trust”?’ he said.
Capt. John Prater, head of the Air Line Pilots Association, noted pilots are already subject to FBI background checks.
Prater said that based on the discussions with TSA officials he too was hopeful the agency will soon approve a ‘crew pass’ system that would allow flight attendants and pilots to undergo less stringent screenings.
Some pilots also are concerned about possible health risks from low-level radiation emitted by the body machines.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano may lessen the security checks required of pilots, as even hero pilot Sully has spoken out against the stringent checks, especially as pilots are in control of the biggest weapon of all – the plane
Even one of the nation’s most celebrated pilots, Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, has detected the growing unease.
‘The fundamental reason is that airline pilots are already the last line of defense for anyone who poses a threat to the airplane,’ said the soft-spoken Sullenberger, who successfully ditched his US Airways plane in the Hudson River last year after it struck birds during takeoff.
‘We are – and would like to be considered – trusted partners in that important security mission.’
Sullenberger, who recently retired, said pilots are also exposed to more radiation because they fly at altitudes where the atmosphere doesn’t fully block harmful rays.
‘So, for those of us who are already exposed to many times more radiation than those who work on the ground, it is of concern to us that we are exposed even in small amounts to additional, what we consider unnecessary radiation exposure,’ he said.
Sullenberger said he hasn’t heard of studies addressing those potential health risks, but he said, ‘Absent the data, I think we need to err on the side of caution.’
Rep. John Mica, the Republican who will soon be chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is also speaking out against the TSA and reminding airports that they have a choice.
Mica wrote to the heads of more than 150 airports nationwide suggesting they opt out of TSA screenings.
‘When the TSA was established, it was never envisioned that it would become a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy which was soon to grow to 67,000 employees,’ he wrote.
‘As TSA has grown larger, more impersonal, and administratively top-heavy, I believe it is important that airports across the country consider utilizing the opt-out provision’ and use private screening.
Critics also fear that the TSA’s ‘security theater’ of checks, shoe removal, liquid inspection and pat downs has become dangerously ineffective while trying to project the feeling of safety.
‘It’s a big Kabuki dance,’ Mica told the Washington Examiner.
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