Gate Rape – Still a “Crime” and Certainly a National Shame

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Full-Body-Scan-Machine.jpgBy E. Roberts Musser

The TSA is at it again, still engaging in “gate-rape” of the elderly.  The following are the most recent examples:

  • Inspectors pulled aside Ruth Sherman, age 88, to ask her about the bulge in her pants. Ruth tried to explain about her colostomy bag without success. She was escorted to another room where two female agents made her lower her sweatpants. The humiliated woman was forced to warn the agents not to touch her colostomy bag, because to do so would cause pain.
  • The very next day, at the same airport (Kennedy Airport), 85-year-old Lenore Zimmerman was pulled into a private room by TSA agents. This frail elder was asked to remove her back brace for screening as a result of refusing to go through a scanning machine because of her heart defibrillator. Unbelievably, Zimmerman was forced to raise her blouse and to lower her pants and underwear for a female TSA agent, a veritable “strip search”.
  • Last June, the daughter of a 95-year-old woman claimed TSA agents refused to let her mother board a flight because her adult diaper set off alarms. According to the daughter, her mother took off the wet diaper because it had a suspicious spot on it, so she could be cleared in time for her flight. Alternatively, the TSA said it handled the situation properly, alleging agents never asked the daughter to remove her mother’s diaper.
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill, Democrat Missouri, said she dreads running into a certain TSA agent when it comes time for a pat down at the St. Louis airport. Sen. McCaskill happens to have an artificial knee.

Upon preliminary review, the TSA is insisting it followed the agency’s procedures in the above cited cases. Experts say such searches will only increase as our national population ages and receives prosthetics and various other medical devices, many of which cannot go through the screening machines. Prosthetic devices can set off metal detectors; catheters and ostomy/colostomy bags are visible on body scanners; and folks with pacemakers cannot be subjected to metal detectors or wands because it can interfere with electrical impulses generated by a pacemaker.

What is at serious risk here are a citizen’s basic rights. It is a fundamental invasion of privacy when one has to take their clothes off in front of authorities at an airport. After all, citizens are not criminals, and should not be treated as if they were. The TSA has begun to realize that it has a serious public relations problem on its hands, after the invasive pat down of a young child went viral over the Internet. The agency has begun to tailor its screening procedures for different types of passengers. As of now, pat-downs for most children under the age of 12 have been eliminated. A pilot project of express screening for frequent flyers at four airports is being tried.

More importantly, the agency has formed an advisory committee of 70 disability groups. The idea is to help the TSA adapt its screening techniques to accommodate the frail elderly, young children, and other particularly vulnerable citizens. TSA chief John Pistole said the agency is attempting to train screeners to more swiftly identify medical devices to save passengers from embarrassment. But of course the TSA is trying to justify what it has done prior to this, by noting that terrorists and their targets can range in age. An example they use is of the recent arrest of four Georgia men, ages 65 to 73, on charges of plotting an attack with the deadly toxin ricin.

Clearly, no one wants terrorists to be able to game the system. But some sort of common sense needs to prevail. I myself have witnessed TSA agents subjecting frail elders in wheelchairs to very invasive pat-downs that seem completely unnecessary. Not only are the frisks extremely thorough, but somewhat rough. To make matters worse, the TSA agents themselves are generally quite unfriendly and intimidating. It certainly takes all the pleasure out of flying. I understand the need for safety in our skies, but I have to wonder if the TSA has gone a bit too far in its zealousness to protect us. Isn’t there some way of prescreening seniors with medical devices, for instance?

I also have to wonder how effective the scanning machines are, if they can’t even differentiate between an explosive and a colostomy bag? Has the public been sold a bill of goods that is largely ineffective, giving us a false sense of security, when other less costly and invasive methods might be more effective? For example, doesn’t it make more sense to profile passengers ahead of time via computer, to weed out potential terrorists? It seems as if that avenue of endeavor is woefully inadequate.  Important data on potential terroristic activity doesn’t seem to reach the airport until it is too late – long after a dangerous passenger such as the “underwear bomber” has boarded the plane and taken off.

Let’s hope enough public pressure is brought to bear, that forces the TSA to take a harder look at instituting less intrusive security techniques. Not only will flying be more pleasurable, but a lot safer from a realistic perspective. I don’t want the illusion of protection without the reality, especially if I’m going to be “gate-raped” in the process!

Lesson to be learned: Bringing public pressure to bear, like taking pictures with a cell phone of questionable behavior, can be a very successful means of affecting modifications in existing policy. If you don’t speak up/photograph, nothing will change.

Elaine Roberts  Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs.  If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.

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16 thoughts on “Gate Rape – Still a “Crime” and Certainly a National Shame”

  1. medwoman

    “I also have to wonder how effective the scanning machines are, if they can’t even differentiate between an explosive and a colostomy bag? Has the public been sold a bill of goods that is largely ineffective, giving us a false sense of security, when other less costly and invasive methods might be more effective? For example, doesn’t it make more sense to profile passengers ahead of time via computer, to weed out potential terrorists? It seems as if that avenue of endeavor is woefully inadequate.  Important data on potential terroristic activity doesn’t seem to reach the airport until it is too late – long after a dangerous passenger such as the “underwear bomber” has boarded the plane and taken off.

    I don’t think we have to wonder about the effectiveness of the scanning machines. They are highly variable in their reliability in my experience.
    I was allowed to fly from Sacramento to Seattle with an undetected hunting knife in my bag. ( Don’t ask. It was a total accident with a long forgotten present on my part). It was detected immediately by the scanner in Seattle where my obvious bewilderment and embarrassment led to what was probably the only bit of amusement in this poor TSA agents day. Needless to say, they didn’t let me fly back with it. But, so much for on board safety.

  2. Superfluous Man

    Medwoman, “Needless to say, they didn’t let me fly back with it. But, so much for on board safety.”

    Did you get the knife back? Was the knife in your carry on luggage?

  3. JustSaying

    As usual, this has become all about fear and money, and will never end, thanks to Condoleezza: [quote]“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”[/quote]We’ve spent nearly a trillion dollars, much of it to over-paid, war-profiteering contractors, to invade Iraq–all based on the phony fear reflected in this propaganda from our own government.

    The entire security protocols grew, and still are growing, from the “mushroom cloud” specter that the Bush Administration found useful, necessary and sufficient to justify the invasion.

    The claim is made that these acts have kept us from another attack when the truth is much more simple and much less costly. We’re far more safe because of a flying public educated by the 19 hijackers: Never again will a planeload quietly sit through a hijacking. This new reality, coupled with money spent on reinforced doors, did the job.

    Instead of accepting our progress, we now face an entrenched, fear-mongering, money-hungry, permanent industry every time we go to the airport. It’s complete with unionized workers, peace-time war (“war on terror”) profiteers, bought-off Congressional committees, present and future Presidential administrations afraid to be labeled “soft” on terror if they challenge this expensive approach, etc.

    We were so suckered by this little gang of thugs. The War on Terror is over. The terrorists won long ago; we just haven’t admitted it yet.

    We’re bleeding ourselves dry financially and voluntarily allowing Bush and Obama to terrorize our own citizens with acts that wouldn’t pass Supreme Court review (unless a couple Court members are whisked away via extraordinary rendition).

    I’m sorry, Elaine, we all need to be ready to drop our Depends and bend over. It’s only going to get worse.

  4. dgrundler

    Nice piece, ERM.

    My $0.02:

    The TSA has an unenviable job of ensuring our safety when we fly. They are given a set of tools, but not a complete set. Much of the outrage that we hear comes from a clash between the ability for the TSA to be effective, and the civility of Western culture. When an 85 year old with a pacemaker and a colostomy bag refuses to go through a scanner because of inherent problems with the medical device that he/she is wearing, the civility of our culture says that we should let them be. The problem with that is that, if we make this a habit, the terrorists will latch on to “our weakness” and take advantage of it. Terrorists constantly look for holes in our security, and take advantage of our civility. Who would have thought that we would have an “underwear bomber?” The TSA is constantly on the sharp end of the criticism stick, but not much is offered on the way of solution. How do we make the TSA screening process better, and not limit the effectiveness of the screening? I hear a lot of complaining, but virtually no suggestions for improvement. What do we do?

    [quote]I also have to wonder how effective the scanning machines are, if they can’t even differentiate between an explosive and a colostomy bag? Has the public been sold a bill of goods that is largely ineffective, giving us a false sense of security, when other less costly and invasive methods might be more effective?[/quote]

    Scanning machines are not designed to detect explosives. They are designed to highlight differences in materials. A colostomy bag and a bag of accelerant or explosive gel under the clothes will look much the same on the scanner. It is then the job of the TSA agent to determine the nature of the material. While science has taken us a long way, we are not at the point in history where a quick scan can tell us the entire contents of what is being scanned.

  5. Superfluous Man

    dg, “While science has taken us a long way, we are not at the point in history where a quick scan can tell us the entire contents of what is being scanned.”

    Interestingly, a scientific method developed at UCD, once used to determine the quality of wine, is now being tested by TSA to determine the liquid contents of passengers’ possessions. http://www.news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=9729

    Here’s what the TSA’s website says re: liquid scanners http://www.tsa.gov/approach/tech/bls.shtm.

  6. dgrundler

    Superfluous Man,

    Your second link is broken.

    As for technology, I am talking about technology that is quick, cheap, and accurate, a la star trek. We are not at the point where, in a matter of seconds, a scanner can tell us the complete makeup of an entire sample, as we walk through a magic gateway. The technology you link to involves putting a sample into a collection chamber and then running an analysis. That doesn’t really help with the colostomy bag.

  7. Superfluous Man

    Not sure why the link isn’t working. I guess it wouldn’t help with the colostomy bag. It sounds like they are still developing the technology. Nevertheless, if the TSA agent finds something containing a liquid material, there are ways to determine the content that doesn’t rely exclusively on the agents’ judgement, but on science.

    FWIW, from the TSA site, “Next generation bottled liquids scanner systems have the ability to detect a wider range of explosive materials and use light waves to screen sealed containers for explosive liquids. TSA recently deployed 500 next generation BLS units to airports nationwide. is currently testing new liquid screening systems with enhanced detection capabilities and use light waves to screen sealed containers for explosive liquids.”

    It’s not clear, though, if this new technology would require that the container be placed in chamber of some sort.

  8. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]How do we make the TSA screening process better, and not limit the effectiveness of the screening? I hear a lot of complaining, but virtually no suggestions for improvement. What do we do? [/quote]

    From an article in the LA Times [url]http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/21/opinion/la-oe-mcnamara-airport-screening-20101121[/url], here are some suggestions for better airport security:
    [quote]The first is to recognize that the vast majority of passengers are not terrorists. We need to deal with as many of the non-terrorists as possible before they arrive at airport checkpoints. A national, voluntary “trusted passenger” program would do that by advance background checks and biometric identity documents, which could be reviewed, renewed or revoked at any time. Privacy and civil liberties could be protected by strong privacy legislation and oversight by an independent board. Costs could be shared by passengers, airports, airlines and governments.

    Although there are a couple of local, commercial programs already in place, they include only a tiny number of passengers. In a truly national program, “trusted” passengers at all airports could move through simplified, expedited check-ins with only occasional random searches…

    Instead of focusing on these factors, we need to develop a much broader profiling program that gives primacy to patterns of activities and behaviors. This profiling would not key primarily on race, ethnicity or nationality, but it would not totally ignore them either. Rather, it would rely primarily on intelligence and law enforcement and on consular, airline and other information related to an individual’s recent and long-term behavior. Only after those factors were examined would others be considered. We have enough data on threatening activities and behaviors to spot “needles” more effectively. We should put more resources into behavioral profiling.[/quote]

  9. E Roberts Musser

    Clearly, from medwoman’s experience of getting a knife through airport security, the very flawed airport security system we have now does not work. It gives the illusion of security, but in reality does little. We need to do more background checking/profiling BEFORE the a potential terrorist reaches the airport…

  10. dgrundler

    ERM, while that solution might be a step in the right direction, what happens when a terrorist offers someone on the “trusted” list a million dollars to cary explosives through the checkpoint? If you are not going to check everyone, then you might as well check no one.

  11. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]ERM, while that solution might be a step in the right direction, what happens when a terrorist offers someone on the “trusted” list a million dollars to cary explosives through the checkpoint? If you are not going to check everyone, then you might as well check no one.[/quote]

    First of all, no system is fool proof, not one. Secondly, we already know the current system is extremely flawed, and cannot even detect something as blatant/menacing as a hunting knife. I’ve heard that guns have gotten through as well. Thirdly, thorough background checks of ground crew are still not being done from what I understand, an even bigger danger than not doing background checks on passengers. Fourthly, there ought to be a way of allowing for a “trusted” list coupled with random searches of every so many passengers (again a random number) just as a double check. But from what I can remember, at least one recent terrorist (can’t think which one it was) who got on the plane never should have reached that point had the proper information about his background gotten to the airport in time. IMO, background checks/profiling are probably more effective deterrences than the techniques we are using now, which are quite humiliating to passengers. And by the way, the very fact that children under 12 are not being targeted for searches opens up an avenue for terrorists to exploit. So would you advocate returning to the practice of TSA agents vigorously frisking 5 year olds? Should we “strip search” little old ladies w colostomy bags, or allow them proper avenues to get on a “trusted list” with the proper background check? Is the system we have in place now really “safe” or is it giving the appearance of “safety” without the reality?

  12. dgrundler

    [quote]And by the way, the very fact that children under 12 are not being targeted for searches opens up an avenue for terrorists to exploit. So would you advocate returning to the practice of TSA agents vigorously frisking 5 year olds? Should we “strip search” little old ladies w colostomy bags, or allow them proper avenues to get on a “trusted list” with the proper background check? Is the system we have in place now really “safe” or is it giving the appearance of “safety” without the reality?[/quote]

    They should be searched. Vigorously strip searched? No Should we allow them proper avenues to get on a “trusted list” with the proper background check? Absolutely not. I’ll say it again. If you are not going to check everyone, then you might as well check no one. When we are dealing with security, there is no such thing as a “trusted” person. I acknowledge that things have to change. Profiling, as a means of additional screening, would be more effective. However, no one can be excluded or trusted. Sure, every system has flaws. But a system that includes “trusted” people is a system so flawed, it is not worth having.

  13. medwoman

    Superflous Man

    I was offered the knife back in case I wanted to mail it to myself. I declined and gave it to them to dispose of. And most importantly, yes, it was in a zippered section of my oversized purse, long forgotten.

  14. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]They should be searched. Vigorously strip searched? No Should we allow them proper avenues to get on a “trusted list” with the proper background check? Absolutely not. I’ll say it again. If you are not going to check everyone, then you might as well check no one. When we are dealing with security, there is no such thing as a “trusted” person. I acknowledge that things have to change. Profiling, as a means of additional screening, would be more effective. However, no one can be excluded or trusted. Sure, every system has flaws. But a system that includes “trusted” people is a system so flawed, it is not worth having.[/quote]

    We don’t “search” every person now! Some go through the scanning machine and some do not. Those that are searched can get a knife/gun through security. So clearly the system we have is not working. For me, it makes more sense to do profiling long before passengers ever reach the airport. I see no reason why frequent travelers who have had extensive background checks cannot bypass some of the security, but randomly searched on occasion just to be sure. If you can do that for frequent travelers, why not people with legitimate medical conditions, and children? We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one…

  15. E Roberts Musser

    And by the way, as I noted above, ground crew are not being background checked, and represent more of a threat than passengers from what I understand. This makes no sense… treat passengers like criminals while giving free access to ground crew without doing any background checks…

  16. dgrundler

    [quote]We don’t “search” every person now! Some go through the scanning machine and some do not. Those that are searched can get a knife/gun through security. So clearly the system we have is not working. For me, it makes more sense to do profiling long before passengers ever reach the airport. I see no reason why frequent travelers who have had extensive background checks cannot bypass some of the security, but randomly searched on occasion just to be sure. If you can do that for frequent travelers, why not people with legitimate medical conditions, and children? We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one…
    [/quote]

    And that is a problem. We should search everyone now. Like I said before, as soon as someone becomes “trusted,” that person would be target #1 for a terrorist. Are you so sure a frequent flier wouldn’t be persuaded by a million dollars to bring something through the checkpoint under their clothes?

    [quote]And by the way, as I noted above, ground crew are not being background checked, and represent more of a threat than passengers from what I understand. This makes no sense… treat passengers like criminals while giving free access to ground crew without doing any background checks…[/quote]

    Ground crews should be checked too. I had to be searched every night in Oakland at UPS.

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