TSA head in for grilling on security measures

Lawmakers are expected to grill the head of TSA on Tuesday over increased security measures at U.S. airports that have sparked public fury.

John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, is expected to be hit with questions about new pat-down techniques that air passengers have complained are invasive. He is scheduled to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee about air-cargo security measures put in place since an attempted terrorist attack from Yemen.

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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the new search methods on Monday, telling reporters they are necessary to ensure the public’s safety. She said the agency is open to making adjustments as the techniques are put into common practice.

But Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — referencing a picture circulating online of a nun being patted down by airport security officials — told The Hill that voters are going to continue to be upset at TSA’s use of pat-downs and whole-body imaging technology until a balance is struck between personal privacy and security.

“We have to become more effective and less invasive,” he said. “That’s what people are demanding. There is a false choice being presented that suggests we have to give up all of our liberties in the name of security.

“I think there will be a continued steady drumbeat as more and more nuns get felt up by their local TSA agent,” he said. “This is not an issue that’s going to go away. More and more people are going to be offended.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said that his office had received several concerned e-mails from voters about the new methods as well, and that he planned on pushing Congress to look into how to ensure the privacy of passengers.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate panel, backed Napolitano on Monday and said that the new methods are being put into place because they have proven to deter terrorists.

"Overall — these are tough decisions — but I come down on the side of the pat-downs," he said. "I understand it's unusual, but we've got to all think, as we're feeling uncomfortable about the pat-down, that we could be on a plane on which somebody is prepared to blow themselves and us up unless there is such a pat-down."

The House Homeland Security Committee does not have any hearings on the techniques scheduled for the lame-duck session, according to a spokesman.