TSA defends pat-down of boy; countless others creeped out

The Washington Post

The Transportation Security Administration is defending an officer’s pat-down of a boy at a Texas airport that outraged his mother and thousands and thousands of people who viewed her Facebook posting on the incident.

For at least two minutes, the TSA officer at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport gives the boy a going-over that just seems a little too thorough.

First, the TSA officer explains to the boy what’s coming. Then the TSA officer, who is wearing blue gloves, moves behind the kid and starts with a search of the kid’s left shoulder. Nothing there. Then the right shoulder. Nothing there, either. The kid’s only wearing a T-shirt after all.

Then the TSA officer runs the back of his gloved hand down the kid’s back four times. Then he runs his hands up and down the kid’s torso on both sides.

Then the TSA officer examines the waistband of the kid’s shorts with the sort of painstaking care a tailor might show while taking in a seam. Then the TSA officer runs the back of his hand down the kid’s buttocks and upper leg on the left side six times or so, with a few on the right side for good measure. Then he wraps his big manly hands around the kid’s hams.

Now it’s time to move around to the front. The TSA officer frisks the kid’s shoulders again — you never know when you’re going to find an armpit bomb. Then down the torso again. Then it’s time to fuss at the waistband some more. Then the TSA officer runs the back of his hands down the front of the kid’s upper leg. More ham-gripping.

Phew. All done. The kindly TSA officer steps away as if the ordeal’s over but — nope, he’s back at the kid’s crotch again.

Take a look, as more than 5 million other people have so far. It looks like the TSA officer’s giving the po0r kid a sponge bath, not a pat-down.

“We have been through hell this morning,” the boy’s mother, Jennifer Williamson wrote on Facebook. Williamson, who did not give her son’s age, said she had asked the TSA treat him in a way that would not aggravate his disability, known as a sensory processing disorder.

“He set off NO alarms,” Williamson writes on her Facebook page. “He physically did not alarm at all during screening, he passed through the detector just fine. He is still several hours later saying ‘I don’t know what I did. What did I do?’”

She didn’t respond to a request for comment made through Facebook. In her posting, however, she said her son’s screening took so long they missed their flight.

“I am livid,” Williamson writes. “I wish I had taped the entire interchange because it was horrifying.”

The TSA said it was just following orders.

“TSA allows for a pat-down of a teenage passenger, and in this case, all approved procedures were followed to resolve an alarm of the passenger’s laptop,” spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said in an email. “The video shows a male TSA officer explaining the procedure to the passenger, who fully cooperates. Afterward, the TSA officer was instructed by his supervisor, who was observing, to complete the final step of the screening process.

“In total, the pat-down took approximately two minutes, and was observed by the mother and two police officers who were called to mitigate the concerns of the mother. The passengers were at the checkpoint for approximately 45 minutes, which included the time it took to discuss screening procedures with the mother and to screen three carry-on items that required further inspection.”

No word on what sort of pat-down the laptop received.

Look, we get it. Terrorists are trying to defeat airport security anyplace they can, and the TSA can’t afford to be wrong even once. But this kid’s mother is right: the slow-hand Texas pat-down of a scared kid was over the top.

Video: TSA pat-down of boy sparks outrage online

The pat-down of a boy at a Texas airport by a TSA officer outraged his mother and thousands of people who viewed the incident online. Here are other incidents that caused outrage and raised questions. (Victoria Walker / The Washington Post)

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