Instead of a TSA airport search, he'll take the train

A man who refused a body scan and pat-down search at a San Diego airport has become an Internet sensation in the debate weighing fliers' security versus their privacy. (Nov. 15)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 12:15 AM

Kyle Whitney is headed home for the holidays next week, but unlike 1.6 million Americans who say they plan to fly, he's taking the train.

"I thought about flying, but it doesn't seem right that you have to submit to a strip search in order to fly," said Whitney, who works for XM Radio in the District.

So instead of a one-hour flight to Hartford, Conn., he'll spend about seven hours on the train.

For millions of Americans the delicate balance between anti-terrorism security needs and personal freedoms seems to have been tipped by new airport security methods to employ revealing full-body scanners and require "enhanced pat-downs" of those who refuse the scan.

Although flying might be a once-a-year affair for many who will head to the airport next week, the roiling controversy over new security procedures implemented last month most likely has caught their attention.

Video of a confrontation between Transportation Security Administration agents and a passenger at a security checkpoint in San Diego went viral on the Internet. And on Tuesday a man who passed through one of the new scanners in Indianapolis International Airport was arrested for punching a TSA agent.

Whitney says that he understands that frustration and that he's annoyed with those who are "willing to trade off their rights" in the name of security.

"These TSA agents are allowed to do searches that even the FBI and the police can't do," Whitney said.

John S. Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, has defended the new techniques twice this week under questioning by members of two Senate committees.

"I'm bothered by the level of pat-downs," said Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) while Pistole was testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee. "I wouldn't want my wife to be touched like that. I wouldn't want to be touched like that myself. What can we do to get the right balance? I think we've gone too far afield."

Pistole responded that "reasonable people can disagree on where the balance should be," but he insisted that the scanners, which critics have likened to X-ray vision, and very thorough body searches are necessary to catch non-metallic security threats.

"We have discovered dozens and dozens of artfully disguised items that have posed a risk," said Pistole, a former FBI agent who took the TSA post this year. "The threats are real, the stakes are high and we must prevail. When it comes to the TSA, we are the last line of defense."

So far, the TSA has installed 385 of the full-body scanners at 68 airports, with plans to increase the number to 500 by year's end and bring the total to more than 1,000 next year. Passengers who decline to use the full-body scanners are offered an "enhanced pat-down" as an alternative.

Pistole said children 12 and younger would not be required to go through the process. He said anyone who objects to a public pat-down can be searched in private.

He asked that people who are traveling next week visit the TSA Web site,, to review the guidelines.

Planned air travel is up 3.5 percent this Thanksgiving, with 1.62 million people telling AAA that they plan to fly.

"No one likes being probed and prodded and patted-down, but it is better than being blown to smithereens," said John B. Townsend II of AAA. "Americans, the flying public, especially those who only fly during the holidays, want and need assurance of security."

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