There was a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill today when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed their frustrations about airline screening procedures to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, with Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., calling some of the TSA procedures “baloney.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, raised the issue of passengers not wanting to pass through advanced imaging technology (AIT) screening machines.
“I’ve been getting a lot of complaints lately about the checks … as you pass through the monitoring stations, where people don’t want to go through the X-ray station, and so they line up on the one side where just the open-door station is,” Hatch said. “And some of your people force them to go over to go through the X-ray station. And then, if they say, ‘Well, I don’t want to do that, I’d rather go through the other one,’ they say, ‘Well, you can do it but then you’re going to have to be patted down.’”
Napolitano attempted to explain to the senators why the pat-down procedures were necessary.
“I can say the answer in one word, and that’s Abdulmutallab,” Napolitano said in reference to underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who pleaded guilty to terrorism offenses in Detroit last week.
“Others like him who have been trying to bring explosives onto planes, or other material that shouldn’t be on a plane … does not have a metal component – and, therefore, the magnetometer won’t pick it up,” Napolitano said. “And so that’s why you see the pat-down procedure has been adjusted to reflect – I’m sorry – you know, that plain reality. We actually have been looking nationwide at how we can move people through – we handle about 1 1/2 to 1.8 million passengers a day in the U.S. air system – things that we can do to make it easier for passengers to process through the system, and we continue to look for ways.”
“Sometimes, you get the impression they almost want to make you miss your plane because you have to go through the pat-down,” Leahy groused to Napolitano.
“Children having to go through,” he added. “There’s almost this arrogant disregard for real Americans who have to put up with this baloney.
“I do provide a lot of amusement for people who are taking cell phone pictures of me getting a pat-down,” Leahy told Napolitano “When I do it, the TSA agent tells them, ‘Well, you know there’s a law against taking photographs.’ Of course, there is no such law. And it’s just one more example. You know, we’ll go through it and we’ll do it and all of that, and maybe miss your plane because they’re annoyed that you actually want to protect your rights. But it’s a shame because you have some very nice people working at TSA, but boy, oh boy.”
“I do have a great crew working at TSA. But I appreciate these concerns,” Napolitano said.
“At the very top, there’s a disconnect with reality,” Leahy said.
“I think we can continue to look into it and to improve. And we will work with you. We’ll look into your complaints,” Napolitano told the senators. “I understand that and why people get concerned and frustrated when they travel. But I also think we have the safest aviation system in the world, and there’s a reason for that.”
“I always comply, but I’m just saying — and I don’t ever raise a fuss about it, nor would I,” Hatch told Napolitano, “but it seems to me … maybe I look like a terrorist. I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I’m really very kind and loving, you know.”
“Senator, I will give you that,” Napolitano told Hatch. “You look kind and loving, and we should be able to handle this and also look at some of your [concerns.]“