"What we have is the perfect storm of the pilots, flight attendants and now passengers rejecting the body scanners and enhanced patdowns in favor of a more reasonable approach," he said. "My main goal in starting this was to get the message out there, and from the support I'm getting, I think the message is getting out loud and clear."
Starting Oct. 29, the TSA implemented new rules allowing TSA officers to patdown passengers with the front of their hands, instead of the backs of their hands. The new procedures come as the TSA continues to deploy full-body scanners, formally known as Advanced Imaging Technology, at airports.
The full-body scanners provide security screeners with essentially nude images of travelers. To ensure privacy, faces are blurred and the images are deleted once the TSA officer determines that the passenger is not a threat. The person viewing the images is in a remote location and communicates with the on-site officer via radio.
Passengers can opt out of the scanner but are subject to a physical patdown by an officer of the same gender. A security expert who demonstrated the new procedure on a mannequin for ABC News explained the changes.
"You go down the body and up to the breast portion," said Charles Slepian of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center. "If it's a female passenger, you're going to see if there's anything in the bra."
Besides privacy concerns, passengers have questioned the safety and radiation levels of the 450 scanners that have been phased in starting in March.
"These things, they've been examined six ways to Sunday," Napolitano said Monday. "The FDA, Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. Science and Standards Association, have all measured the radiation involved in an AIT. It's almost immeasurable, it is so small. It's the equivalent to maybe about two minutes worth of being in flight. You know, you're exposed to radiation when you fly in a plane anyway. So these things are really miniscule."
Those repeated statements by the government haven't quieted fears.
One privacy watchdog group had gone so far as to file a lawsuit in a federal court, seeking to have the machines removed from airports.
"These machines are not effective against powdered explosives, they create substantial health risks and they are a violation the privacy of American travelers," said Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Even the pilots are protesting.
The head of Allied Pilots Association, a union representing 11,000 American Airlines pilots, wrote an e-mail to pilots earlier this month suggesting that they forgo both going through a full-body scanner and submitting to a patdown. But Captain Dave Bates, head of the union, went even one step further, suggesting that pilots request that patdown in private.
"There is absolutely no denying that the enhanced patdown is a demeaning experience. In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot. I recommend that all pilots insist that such screening is performed in an out-of-view area to protect their privacy and dignity," he wrote to his members.