WASHINGTON – Despite the uproar over intrusive pat-downs of some airline travelers – even Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday she would not want to undergo one – the policy will not change heading into the holiday travel season, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said.
“Clearly, it’s invasive; it’s not comfortable,” John Pistole said in an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union With Candy Crowley.”
But he said the agency was trying to strike the right balance between privacy and security to protect the nation from terrorist attacks.
“No, we’re not changing the policies … because of the risks that have been identified,” Pistole said. “We know through intelligence that there are determined people, terrorists who are trying to kill not only Americans, but innocent people around the world.”
The TSA this month began more aggressive pat-downs, including checking sensitive areas such as the groin and breasts for signs of weapons or explosives on some travelers. The searches have sparked outrage, as has the TSA’s alternative – greater use of full-body scanners that the American Civil Liberties Union has said amounts to a “virtual strip-search.”
An Internet-based campaign has called for airline passengers to refuse the full-body scans on Wednesday, the busy travel day before Thanksgiving, opting instead for pat-downs, which could cause huge delays at airports.
Asked Sunday if she would submit to one of the new pat-downs, Clinton said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “Not if I could avoid it. No. I mean, who would?”
But Clinton said Obama administration officials were trying to find the right way to respond to terrorists “getting more creative about what they do to hide explosives in, you know, crazy things like underwear.”
President Barack Obama said Saturday that he asked his counterterrorism team each week if the measures they’re taking were “absolutely necessary.”
But Pistole said the new procedures were necessary to stop terrorist attacks. He admitted the new pat-downs were “more intrusive.”
“To some people, it is demeaning,” he said. But Pistole said very few passengers go through the new pat-downs – only those who set off alarms going through airport screening machines.
“So you just have to make sure you take everything out of your pockets,” he said. “So if there’s no alarm, there’s no pat-down.”
Hours after the CNN program, according to the Associated Press, Pistole issued a statement saying the agency would work to make screening methods “as minimally invasive as possible.”