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03 November 2010

Is the TSA allowing convicted rapists to perform pat-down searches?

Last Thursday, without much fanfare, TSA announced that it would start a new screening procedure that would include more pat-down searches nationwide. USA Today reports that in the new procedures, screeners' hands would slide over a passenger's body, requiring screeners to touch passengers' breasts and genitals. In addition to questions over whether this change is necessary or effective, another question that many passengers may have in the backs of their minds is whether the TSA screeners have a criminal background that should preclude them from such sensitive duties.

Possible reasons for the new procedures
There is some debate over whether these procedures are either useful or necessary. There are certainly threats to airliners from bombs that could be carried on a person's body, such as the bomb used in the unsuccessful bombing attempt on a Delta airliner last December. However, it is not at all clear that this new pat-down procedure would have found that explosive device.

The more recent incident involving two bombs sent as cargo from Yemen to the US could indicate renewed efforts to target US airliners. However, there has been no public acknowledgement by the TSA, the US government, or any other government that there is any increased threat to air travel from bombs hidden beneath clothing. Certainly the new pat-down procedure is a very public and very noticeable increase in security, but not one that is directly linked to any immediate threat.

TSA employees with faulty criminal background checks
The TSA serves a very important and vital role in airline security, and all of their employees are required to pass security and background checks. However, those checks in the past have been less than thorough. For example, in 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (which includes TSA) released a report that stated that TSA had allowed some screeners to perform their duties before their criminal background checks were complete, and allowed others to continue working while problems with their background checks were resolved. Even if this problem no longer exists for current applicants and employees, a more serious problem may be that the current system of background checks may have allowed those convicted of rape and other sexually based offenses to join TSA.

Are current TSA background checks too limited?
The 2004 DHS report stated that federal regulations (49 CFR. § 1542.209) specified were 28 kinds of felony convictions that would have disqualified an applicant for a TSA screener position, including rapes or crimes involving aggravated sexual abuse, but only if those convictions had occurred in the previous 10 years. It implies that a person convicted of rape, attempted rape, child molestation, or similar crimes may not be required to report such convictions during their background check and may be allowed to perform pat-down searches on passengers.

It is unclear if TSA has changed its background check requirements since 2004 to exclude any convicted sex offenders from working directly with passengers. However, the fact that in the past it may have been possible that someone with that kind of criminal past may be a TSA screener may concern most passengers.

Are convicted rapists performing pat-down searches?
The full details of the the TSA's process for reviewing current and potential employees is not available to the public. Whatever those procedures are, a reasonable passenger would agree that anyone who has been found guilty of any crime that involves rape or some similar criminal act should not be allowed to search passengers. If the TSA could publicly address the following questions, it may go a long way toward reducing the public's concern over the new pat-down procedures:
  • Are there any current TSA employees who are convicted sex offenders (either for a felony or lesser crime, either as an adult or juvenile), even if the conviction occurred more than 10 years before joining TSA?

  • If the answer to the first question is yes, are any of these employees acting as security screeners who must have direct physical contact with the flying public?

  • If the answer to the first question is no, have all TSA employees, as part of their background check, been asked if they have been convicted of rape or some other sexually based crime, whether it were a felony or lesser crime, either as an adult or as a juvenile, even if the conviction occurred more than 10 years before joining TSA?

  • If the first question can't be answered for a TSA employee because of inadequate information, would this employee be restricted from working in a position that involves direct physical contact with the flying public?

  • Are TSA security screeners who are convicted of rape or another sexually based crime, no matter how minor, immediately removed from any position where they may have physical contact with the traveling public?

Unless the TSA is both willing and able to answer these and similar questions, the average traveler may be very reluctant to submit to invasive searches where TSA security officers have to physically touch them in sensitive areas, making it more difficult for the TSA to accomplish its security mission.

What to do if searched
While searching passengers, including pat down searches of breasts and genital areas, may be necessary for security purposes, it would be considered very intrusive by most passengers. If you are selected for this kind of search, you should insist that it be done in a dignified manner. It should be done in a screened off area so that you can't be viewed by others in the vicinity, and the TSA representative should act in a professional manner.

Dealing with abuses
If you feel that you were not treated with dignity or respect during a pat down search, you should take appropriate actions such as calling attention to anything that you think is unnecessary or having a TSA supervisor or law enforcement official present. You can also file a complaint with the TSA, with the complaint process, or with an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has noted several types of common abuses:
  • Unnecessary groping of passengers’ breast or genital areas

  • Humiliating experiences including for disabled or transgendered passengers

  • Lack of privacy during pat-downs

  • Lack of respect for religious requirements.

If you feel that you have not been treated in a fair and professional matter, you can contact the ACLU and provide them with details about your experience.

Interviews on Rudy Maxa's World featuring Dr. Todd Curtis (10:40)
DHS report on TSA screener background checks
WTOP interview on November 16, 2010 with Dr. Todd Curtis about new pat-down TSA procedures (5:12)

Photo: Joe Philipson


  1. The next step is to have passengers strip, take a shower or bath and run the clothing through a hard cycle wash. Our officials are loosing sight of common sense. If one really needs to be patted before travel, it should be done by a doctor or nurse. Boy, the government is really showing a dash of stupidity.
    James L.

  2. In the midst of a healthcare worker shortage and a healthcare plan that is going to increase that demand--you want nurses to do pat downs for airlines?

  3. people will just stop flying to America - the hysteria and fear is a nonsense. get a grip

  4. I disagree with what the article said about making sure if you're selected for an enhanced pat-down, you should make sure they take you to a screened-off area. I think the more public, the better. People should know the extent the TSA is going to 'ensure our safety'. Also, you're less likely to be abused if everyone can see. Also, I think everyone who is touched inappropriately should sue the TSA and the employee who groped them for sexual assault. Let's get rid of this crap!

  5. I found this article on another site and it got me thinking…

    The real JFK opposed a secret society as having no place among a free people. Why should the gov't get to see our "privy parts" in their secret viewing while we see nothing of them?

    Accordingly I propose a new law "Any State that has an airport utilizing the porno-scanners must have every elected official and state goons (including contractors) pass through one and the images posted on the internet and in the airport aisles for public viewing." It is the old "I will show you mine if you show me yours." Let's see if we can get every State to have a movement to pass such laws. We may have the wind at our backs on this one. And with all the focus your site has had in making this issue prominent I think it would be perfect for the impetus for such State laws to originate on your page.

    What think ye? If you like the idea spread it.

  6. This is starting to feel like nazi Germany.

  7. I completely agree that a criminal sexual assault charge should be filed against the TSA employees who do this. "Just following orders" is no protection from charges of child molestation and criminal sexual assault. If prosecutors don't press the charges, grand juries should be formed. These people need to go to prison.

  8. I have heard that the recent "stimulus" paid for these Naked Body Scanners they're using. I feel like I went overseas to fight terrorism only to feel terrorized by my own government when I want to travel in my own freaking borders.

  9. I work for TSA and, yes, I am a rapist, though never arrested or convicted. I LOVE MY JOB! The old mens' look of terror and rage when I grab their balls is too sweet to behold. The fathers' who turn beet red when I stroke their kids' genitals. Oh, yeah. Hot stuff. It's hard not to wave my tongue at them. Welcome to my America. Don't screw with me and you may be able to get on that flight and go home.

  10. Honestly I would like the training procedures for these people doing the pat downs to be made public, or that the same procedures used by police, with the same constraints and sensitivities be put into place. There is a sense that just random people are doing this, with very little sensitivity training or even procedural training, which is very very worrisome.

  11. Bureaucracies obey iron rules.
    1) No accountability. The "enhanced pat down" crap was adopted in a boardroom somewhere by anonymous people who have no personal interest in others' privacy, comfort, or (airline) profit.
    2) Psychotic avoidance of error, in the sense that enraging hundreds of millions of people is nothing but even the appearance of "didn't do enough" is everything. This is why there is no sense of proportion to what bureaucrats do, from education to public safety.
    3) When error occurs in a bureaucracy, said bureaucrats get MORE money and MORE power, the polar opposite of a business where error leads to bankruptcy.

    Those who expect a tax-supported monopoly to do ANYTHING important correctly are complete morons.

  12. And to think that we used to tsk-tsk and shake our heads over the Soviet's security apparatus.

  13. We all know and can see that moral decay as a character flaw is embedded in the Progressive apparatus. Clearly, perverted behavior is on the increase and accepted by the Progressive media who has no problem reporting the perversions at a crime scene rather than objectively reporting the news that affects Americans. No Problem!

    But I think there's a more pressing reason that the Obama regime is so taken with the naked body scanners - other than their love for pornography & their determination to help George Soros make a profit.

    I think the Progressives are using the scanners as a persuasive mind-altering tool in order to weaken us & make us less resistant to their imposition of tyranny. They know that use of the scanners will shock us, humiliate us, gross us out, take away our self-esteem, and make us all feel like scum. Once sufficiently beaten down to the levels of dung and scum, the Progressives believe that we will be worn out and thus more subservient to those that know best - THEM.

    That's why I at times think it's important to avoid giving the Progressives any satisfaction. Even though the scanners are indeed outrageous, in reacting with outrage we are reacting according to the Progressive plan. In the spirit of avoiding this Progressive entrapment, totally ignoring the scanner use would irk the Progressives far more than our shouts.

  14. Everyone strips, has a body cavity search, and remains naked for the duration of the flight. Is that where we are headed? There is no evidence to support the need for this type of invasion of privacy and immoral groping of genitalia. Explosive detection dogs and metal detectors should be adequate if profiling was allowed. I don't mean groping anyone with a napkin on their head either. Israel could teach us what profiles are necessary.

  15. When the "take off your shoes and jacket" policy was introduced, I often joked that one day I would get so frustrated at the futility of it that I'd just strip down and walk through naked. At the time, I suspect I might have been arrested. Now it appears that we're edging closer to being required to do it.

  16. Wow, that's super creepy that TSO's are allowed to have convictions more than 10 years old (even for serious offenses). Given that rape is the most under-reported crime there is, that's really fascinating. This means that registered sex offenders can get jobs as TSO's for sure (some states apply the title "registered sex offender" for the remainder of the offender's life).

    To see this shocking regulation, see:

  17. Wasn't America supposed to be the 'Land of the Free'?

  18. Are only female gropers groping females, or male gropers also?

  19. The whole idea is totally stupid- again showing the government is inept. If someone wants to hide something, they will simply put it in a body cavity and retrieve it in the bathroom. That is why prison guards tell the newly incarcerated to bend over. Body searches are worthless without that component, and the day we allow that, we deserve to lose our freedoms. Didn't someone say once that "he who trades his freedom for safety deserves neither"? We are allowing our government to take away our freedoms- it is our own fault.

  20. Anon 18 Nov pointed out that this could be just prepping us mentally for more abuses in the future. I agree that is the biggest effect this is going to have.
    I think if I fly again I'll opt out of the x-rays, and instead of meekly going through the gate-rape, I'll demand to be "serviced." Let's see how they like that :)