Pat-down techniques would have caught Christmas bomber, TSA chief says

Pat-down techniques are so thorough that they would have thwarted the suspected Christmas Day bomber, who allegedly hid an explosive device in his underwear, the head of the TSA told senators on Tuesday.

In response to a growing rash of public ire about new pat-downs and in anticipation of the large amount of airline travel expected on Thanksgiving next week, John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that the new search methods were an essential component to ensuring airport security.

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Pistole also said that had Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab been successful in his attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound flight last year with a bomb sewn into his underwear, Congress and American public would be much more accepting of the pat-down technique. He added that the technique was being employed as a way to stay ahead of potential terrorist plots.

“There is an ever-evolving nature to terrorist plots,” said Pistole. “It is clear we have to be one step ahead of the terrorists and [it’s] obvious that we are not always in that situation as evidenced by the last three plots that could have been successful.”
 
“If we have an individual who opts out of the advanced imaging technology, let’s say Abdulmutallab … had opted out, thinking [he’s] not going to receive a thorough pat-down so [he could] get on that flight, and if that had been successful on Christmas Day, I think we might be having a different dialogue this afternoon and in the public."

Under new TSA rules, passengers are required to go through whole-body imaging systems. But because some people believe that the technology is too invasive, TSA officials give people the option of passing through a metal detector or receiving a pat-down, which some have said makes them feel like they’re being groped.

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said at the hearing that the pat-down might be “awkward” and “unusual,” but he believes it is necessary to help ensure the public’s safety aboard passenger airliners.

Tuesday’s testimony comes in the wake of a public outcry Monday about the new policies, which Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) and Joe Wilson (S.C.) say the House should take a close look at to see if there is a way to better ensure people’s privacy is respected.