BY: Charles G. Slepian, Esq. (

March 7, 2017

The decision to once again authorize enhanced passenger pat downs at our airports by TSA agents is likely to be short lived.  TSA has tried this before and ultimately withdrew it after incidents of abuse by screeners flooded the agency from passengers who would not allow agents to place their hands on them when TSA deemed it necessary to perform a physical body search. These enhanced pat downs will also allow for the screener to use the front of the hand when the agent feels it necessary.  We have all heard of instances of passengers being subjected to what could best be described as clumsy searches, of having x-ray pictures of passengers captured and circulated by airport workers for their amusement. When it comes to pat downs by screeners, the trust is gone.


Having been invited to comment on the “Lockerbee” report by the President’s Commission On The Causes of The Bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988, among other recommendations I made at the time was for the FAA to oversee private security providing screening at our approximately 300 commercial airports.  After the 9/11 attacks which used private scheduled commercial airliners to attack the United States, I petitioned the Department of Transportation to require skilled law enforcement personnel to provide screening and ancillary security services; and that they be awarded to private aviation security contractors contingent on their compliance with federal security requirements.  Despite TSA’s repeated failures in annual testing programs to interdict explosives and weapons 90% of the time, the government however continues to throw money, at a cost of $8 billion annually, for TSA to continue to operate a failing agency.


I choose not to repeat here the tales of shame committed and widely circulated by TSA officers and the media regarding previous pat down program in the past. I will repeat the words of the TSA used by it in describing its new pat down policy as having been introduced to “lessen the cognitive burden for our officers.”  Adding pat downs with open hands as an option for officers described by their employers as operating under “cognitive burdens” I am sure is not comforting for the many the thousands to be screened by screeners who have in the past as a group already been accused of inappropriately, if not sexually, handling female passengers of all ages. Indeed, so concerned is TSA management about the potential for abuse that they have already met with law enforcement to alert them to the likelihood of sexual abuse complaints by passengers beginning now. TSA, having already raised the issue of a “cognitive burden” on its work force in carrying out its functions, this might be an appropriate time to consider whether a “cognitive burden” has now permeated the entire agency and perhaps public policy considerations a militating a change in operational policy for the disbanding of TSA in favor of a private sector professional agency under contract to Homeland Security to carry out TSA’s functions.


With steps being taken to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, I look carefully for word of its impact on the aviation sector of our economy.  Nobody seriously believes that for the nation’s economy to thrive it will not require constant modernization of our commercial aviation sector.  But while bigger aircraft with more passenger seating and greater cargo space continues to role off the assembly lines at aircraft manufacturers around the world, and while airport facilities continue to strain under an increased passenger volume struggling with inadequate access roadways and over burdened parking facilities, we make little to no progress in commercial aviation security as we continue hiding our heads in the sand.


“Although the threat of terrorism is increasing, the danger of an individual becoming a victim of a terrorist attack, let alone an aircraft bombing, will doubtless remain very small”   Gore Commission Report on the explosion aboard TWA 800.

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