TSA Chief: Vows ‘Minimally Invasive’ Air Screenings

The agency is "constantly evaluating and adapting" security and refining procedures.
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The agency is "constantly evaluating and adapting" security and refining procedures.

Public criticism over the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aggressive pat-down procedures has caused the agency’s chief to say the TSA’s security checkpoint staff will try to make airport screening "as minimally invasive as possible."

TSA Administrator John Pistole said the agency is "constantly evaluating and adapting" security and procedures are refined so that "comment from the traveling public is taken into account." Pistol’s latest remarks soften an earlier statement in which he said TSA is "not changing the policies."

However, Pistole's updated remarks do not list any changes to airport security and reflect comments by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton empathizing with passengers' annoyance as the Thanksgiving travel season gears up. Pistole’s statements is likely an effort to quell the public’s anger at the pat-down procedures while maintaining tough security that officials consider essential to stopping terrorists from sneaking bombs onto airplanes.

TSA's new procedures require airport screeners to touch passengers in sensitive areas to check for hidden explosives if they elect not to go through body scanners, or if they trigger an alarm at a metal detector or in a body scanner, or if they are chosen randomly to be hand-searched.

Pistole acknowledged that some passengers find the pat-downs "demeaning" but said they and other measures "give the highest level of confidence to everybody on that flight that everybody else has been properly screened."

Clinton said she understands "how offensive it must be for the people who are going through it (a pat-down)" and said she would not undergo a pat-down herself. "Not if I could avoid it," she said. "I mean, who would?"

Clinton also said security experts are looking at making airport screening "less intrusive and more precise."

President Obama said, "I understand people's frustrations" with "the whole security apparatus" implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks. Obama put responsibility on the TSA, saying the agency and government counterterrorism experts "have indicated to me" that the security procedures "they've been putting in place are the only ones right now that they consider to be effective."