Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
TSA says no strip search on 85-year-old woman at JFK
The Transportation Security Administration said on Dec. 4 that its agents did not strip search an 85-year-old wheelchair-bound woman who has claimed she was subjected to the treatment at John F. Kennedy International airport in New York in late November.
In a post on the TSA’s Web blog page, the agency said it has apologized to the woman, Lenore Zimmerman, “who feels she had an unpleasant screening experience,” but added that strip searches aren’t part of its protocols and “a strip search did not occur in this case.”
Zimmerman is contemplating a law suit against the agency for what she said was a humiliating strip search before a Jet Blue flight to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She told news organizations that she regularly requests pat-downs instead of Advanced Imaging Technology screening when she travels because she is concerned the electronic technology could interfere with her defibrillator. However, on Nov. 29, she claims two female TSA agents took her to a room and tried to remove her clothes as part of the alternate physical pat-down procedure. Zimmerman also claims she was injured when one of the metal bars from her walker gashed her leg during the search.
The TSA, in its blog post, said it is “gathering information and reviewing the screening of this passenger.” It said security surveillance cameras captured Zimmerman’s arrival at the checkpoint and request for an opt-out of the AIT screening. It said Zimmerman arrived at the ticket counter at 12:19 for a 1 p.m. scheduled flight, which left early at 12:50.
It said she entered the checkpoint line in a wheelchair, with walker in hand, and opted out of the AIT screening. She told TSA agents that she was wearing a back brace or support belt which required private screening.
That private screening was conducted by two female officers, the agency said and the item was removed, rescreened, and the passenger was cleared for travel. “Nothing unusual was depicted on the CCTV as the passenger and two female officers entered and exited the room,” said the TSA post. “The wheelchair attendant assisted the passenger in departing the checkpoint area for the gate,” it said.
The agency said continued vigilance to items underneath clothing was a reason for the screening. It added that terrorists remain focused on attacks on transportation using tactics like concealing explosives under clothing, citing the attempted Christmas Day 2009 bombing, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hid explosives in his underwear. It said “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.” It added that terrorists and their targets “range in age,” citing an FBI investigation in early November in which four Georgia men associated with militia groups and ranging in age from 65 to 73, planned ricin attacks on federal buildings.