TSA, Congress vow to review pat-down of 6-year-old girl

April 13, 2011

The Transportation Security Administration and one of its sharpest congressional critics are vowing to review air passenger screening procedures for young children amid an uproar over a video of a TSA screener giving an enhanced pat-down to a 6-year-old girl.

The child’s mother, Selena Drexel, said Wednesday that her family was in the New Orleans airport last weekend returning to their home in Kentucky when the pat-down occurred. A TSA agent is seen in the video brushing the back of her hand along the child’s back and carefully inspecting around her waistline.

The incident, recorded and posted on YouTube by the girl’s parents, prompted critics to label it as another example of TSA’s aggressive security tactics.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a leading critic of the agency’s passenger screening policies, called the incident “another example of mistreatment of an innocent American at the hands of TSA.”

But TSA said Wednesday that the unidentified female officer followed proper current screening procedures.

Chaffetz chairs a House subcommittee responsible for national security issues and has raised objections before to the agency’s use of new body-imaging machines and the enhanced pat-downs. In September 2009, he accused TSA agents at the Salt Lake City airport of unfairly targeting him for a secondary security review because of his opposition to granting them collective bargaining rights.

In a letter sent Wednesday to TSA Administrator John S. Pistole, Chaffetz asked the agency for an explanation of the incident, saying it violated TSA policy against conducting pat-downs of children younger than 13.

No such policy exists, according to TSA spokesman Nick Kimball. Last fall, agency officials began reviewing whether to move beyond TSA’s current “one-size fits all” passenger screening system, “while maintaining a high level of security,” he said in an e-mail.

Part of the review includes finding ways to “improve the screening experience for low-risk populations, such as younger passengers,” Kimball said. Significant changes could be announced this year, he said.

Pistole has said he is considering the concept of a “trusted traveler” program, which would speed passengers through airport security checkpoints who are willing to provide detailed personal information in advance.

Drexel said there should be different screening procedures for young children.

“We struggle to teach our kids to protect themselves, to say ‘no, it’s not okay to touch me in this way in this area,’” Drexel told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Yet, here we are saying it’s okay for these people” to touch others.

TSA permits passengers and the media to photograph and videotape at airport security checkpoints as long as it doesn’t interfere with the screening process. But photos and video of security monitors used by screeners are prohibited.

Staff writer Ashley Halsey III contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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