TSA denies elderly female passenger was strip-searched

The Transportation Security Administration is denying reports that it forced an elderly airline passenger to remove her clothes during an airport security search. 

New York resident Lenore Zimmerman, 85, accused the TSA last week of forcing her to strip as part of her pat-down after she refused to go through one of the agency's controversial body scanners, according to reports.


But TSA said this week while it was sympathetic to Zimmerman's privacy concerns, "a strip search did not occur in this case."

"You may have heard in the news about an elderly woman who is stating she was strip searched at New York's JFK airport by TSA officers," TSA blogger Bob Burns said in a post on the agency's website. "TSA contacted the passenger to apologize that she feels she had an unpleasant screening experience; however, TSA does not include strip searches in its protocols and a strip search did not occur in this case. We're currently gathering information and reviewing the screening of this passenger, but we wanted to share what we know so far."

Zimmerman told the New York Daily News that she declined to go through one of TSA's body scanners, which some have suggested could cause cancer, because she was worried it might interfere with her defibrillator.

TSA said a review of cameras at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport showed Zimmerman was asked to remove a back brace she told security personnel she was wearing.

"The passenger opted out of advanced imaging technology screening, requested a pat-down and told the officers that she was wearing a back brace or support belt which required private screening," the agency blog said. "Private screening was conducted by two female officers. The item was removed, rescreened, and the passenger was cleared for travel.

"Nothing unusual was depicted on the [closed-circuit television] as the passenger and two female officers entered and exited the room," the TSA blog continued. "The wheelchair attendant assisted the passenger in departing the checkpoint area for the gate."

The TSA blog defended asking Zimmerman to remove the back brace, saying "terrorists remain focused on attacking transportation through tactics such as concealing explosives under clothing.


"As evidenced by the Christmas Day 2009 attempted bombing, concealed anomalies under clothing must continue to be resolved and cleared as part of the screening process to ensure the item does not pose a threat to the safety of the traveling public," the TSA blog said.

"Terrorists and their targets may also range in age," the blog continued, providing a link to an FBI news release about "a group of elderly men who were planning on using toxic ricin against U.S. citizens, U.S government and officials."

Zimmerman has said she is considering suing the TSA over her search. She questions whether she looked "like a terrorist."

"I walk with a walker — I really look like a terrorist,” she told the Daily News. “I’m tiny. I weigh 110 pounds, 107 without clothes, and I was strip-searched.”

A Florida newspaper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, has reported that two other seniors are also complaining about being strip-searched by TSA.