TSA: No holiday reprieve for airport pat-downs

Aggressive pat-downs for air travelers who fail metal-detector or full-body examinations, or are selected at random, will go forward today and through the rest of the holiday season, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said.

Travelers who try to opt out of the electronic surveillance methods won’t see any quicker handling than they would during nonholiday travel, either, TSA head John Pistole said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday.

Travelers who opt out, moreover, will bear responsibility for slowing travel during the busiest of travel days, Pistole said.

“If large numbers of people intentionally slow the process” by choosing the pat-downs, “it can’t help but have a negative impact” on travel, Pistole said.

The agency has relented on aggressive pat-downs for children 12 and under because the agency has received no information that terrorists are looking to use children that young to ferry explosives onto airplanes.

“We’re trying to be sensitive to the children and, of course, the parents,” Pistole said.

Officials are aware of intelligence that teens could be used by terrorists, however, Pistole said.

The aggressive pat-downs are the result of constant covert testing of the system by the agency over the past five years, Pistole said.

The common finding in failures of the test was “the lack of a thorough pat-down,” Pistole said.

That finding, coupled with the Christmas Day plot last year, convinced him of the need for the searches, Pistole said.

The pat-downs don’t violate the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches, Pistole said.

“These are not criminal-justice searches,” he said, “They are public-safety administrative searches.”

Pistole defended the timing of the searches beginning just as the holiday travel season kicked off.  His appointment to head the agency was ratified by the Senate in the summer, and he just completed his study of whether such techniques are needed, Pistole said.


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