REDDING, Calif. — The Transportation Security Administration has started using a new and more rigorous pat-down at airports, which one passenger this week likened to “groin scrutiny.”
Nico Melendez, a public affairs manager for TSA, confirmed that the new pat-down procedures are supposed to be followed as of Thursday, but he was “limited on what can be shared” about them. He did say that the new "universal pat-down" doesn't involve checking any extra body parts, though.
“This standardized pat-down procedure continues to utilize enhanced security measures implemented several months ago, and does not involve any different areas of the body than were screened in the previous standard pat-down procedure," a prepared statement from TSA reads. "TSA continues to adjust and refine our systems and procedures to meet the evolving threat and to achieve the highest levels of transportation security.”
A Bloomberg story Friday quoted another TSA spokesman as saying that searches "will be more thorough and may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before."
The new procedure comes after an in-depth study TSA conducted in response to classified 2015 test results from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. Bloomberg reported that the office criticized TSA because it found some airport officers didn't notice guns and other weapons that were part of that test.
Melendez called it a streamlined procedure that reduces confusion and “lessens the cognitive burden for our officers.”
It didn’t lessen the cognitive burden for local writer Joel Stratte-McClure, though.
In a blog post, Stratte-McClure said he was patted down because he never takes off a gold bracelet on his right wrist, and the TSA agent told him “we’ve got to do more extensive vertical and horizontal pat downs” because “bad people conceal weapons in their pants.” In a tweet about the incident, he called it “groin scrutiny.”
Stratte-McClure said the pat-down happened at Redding Municipal Airport as he began a flight to Egypt via connecting flights in Boston and Washington, D.C.
Airport manager Bryant Garrett said he hadn’t been informed of any new procedures from TSA. The agency normally does tell him about new protocols, he said, though “sometimes it’s not timely.”
“I apologize if somebody felt like they had a bad experience out here," he said.
Expanding on the new procedure, Melendez noted that TSA’s job is to keep travelers safe. That can include pat downs either because, like Stratte-McClure, a person sets off security technology or chooses not to go through it, or he or she may get one “as part of our unpredictable security measures.”
Officers were to be trained in the new procedure and demonstrate proficiency before being allowed to perform it on the public, Melendez said.
He noted that people can request to be screened in private and be accompanied by a companion of their choice, and that a second officer should always be present during a private screening.
While the universal pat-down is new, allegations that TSA goes too far when screening travelers are anything but.
Garrett said people nationwide have complained about protocols the agency adopted about 10 years ago.
They included a CNN commentator who wrote about the humiliating "vaginal pat-down" she said she endured while flying from Detroit to New York last year. The commentator, Angela Rye, said a female TSA agent ran the side of her hand through her genital area twice when she was chosen at random for additional screening.
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