Critic: Not enough science in airport security process

November 18, 2010 (WASHINGTON)

Considerable debate came with the installation of the full body scanners earlier this year, but that has risen to a level of irritation. Passengers who refuse the scan get enhanced pat-downs by airport officials.

"People are messed up because they touch your crotch. They touch your bottom, your breasts, I mean, everything," said Michael Roberts, pilot.

That anger comes from pilots, parents of little children and others who find the pat-downs not only intrusive, but without any apparent logic.

"My view is the complete randomness is a problem because people who don't fit any reasonable profile of a terrorist feel very much insulted that they're asked to step out of line to do this," said Prof. Thomas Mockaitis, DePaul University

At O'Hare International Airport every checkpoint at every terminal has a full body scanner. However, there are not enough of them - at least not yet - to require every passenger to go through them. Or, if they refuse, to opt for an aggressive pat-down. The TSA won't demonstrate how those pat-downs work, but even the agency's head says he found it more intrusive than he expected.

"Makes no sense to take (a) 80-, 90-year-old grandmother, pull her out of line, put her through the hassle and trauma of doing this when it's virtually inconceivable this is a person who is going to be carrying an explosive," said Mockaitis.

The TSA does have behavior detection officers who walk the terminals and study passenger behavior. But those who wind up in the full body scanner or the alternative pat-down often get there because of the line they stand in through security traffic management or they're randomly picked.

Critics say there is simply not enough science to the selection process, which is one of the reasons the temperature is rising on this issue. However, Mockaitis, an authority on anti-terrorism, points out air travelers need to keep one thing in mind.

"When you get to the airport, realize that the minute you step in line for security, you have already agreed to these procedures," said Mockaitis.

Aviation security is meant to be a multi-layered process, but this is clearly one layer that has become a hornet's nest. There are lawsuits challenging the pat-downs. A county prosecutor in California said if passengers are touched inappropriately by airport screeners, he'd consider filing sexual assault charges against them.

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