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Screening of Elderly Passenger at JFK

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Sunday, December 04, 2011
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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 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.

A review of CCTV indicates the passenger opted out of advanced imaging technology and requested a pat-down. It is TSA’s policy that screening procedures are conducted in a manner that treats all passengers with dignity, respect and courtesy.

CCTV shows that the passenger arrived at the ticket counter at 12:19 p.m. for her 1 p.m. scheduled flight which left early at 12:50 p.m.

She entered the checkpoint line in a wheelchair, walker in hand.

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.

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 CCTV as the passenger and two female officers entered and exited the room. The wheelchair attendant assisted the passenger in departing the checkpoint area for the gate.

Terrorists remain focused on attacking transportation through tactics such as concealing explosives under clothing. Further, 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. Terrorists and their targets may also range in age. Read here about a group of elderly men who were planning on using toxic ricin against U.S. citizens, U.S government and officials.

Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team

If you’d like to comment on an unrelated topic you can do so in our Off Topic Comments post. You can also view our blog post archives or search our blog to find a related topic to comment in. If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact a Customer Support Manager at the airport you traveled, or will be traveling through by using Talk to TSA.


Submitted by P F Bruns on

Why on Earth should we trust you? We've caught you lying before. When your "investigation" is complete, I'm sure the fact that you have an interest in exonerating yourselves will be a major factor in the fact that you will exonerate yourselves.

Submit to an independent audit or shut up.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I am curious. Are you guys reviewing whether or not allocating resources for this really actually results in any of the primary goals of the TSA and it's mission?

Because most folks know that's not the case. And I think that's probably the real issue here. That you aren't actually doing your jobs.

Submitted by RB on

The lady says she was strip search. That is good enough for me.

If TSA didn't have a history of being dishonest perhaps my opinion would be different.

TSA is reaping what it has sowed.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Has the TSA and it's leadership lied to the American people in the past? YES!

Has the TSA and it's leadership worked to keep important information from the American people and thereby intentionally mislead the American people? YES!

Is the TSA lying about what happened here? The TSA certainly has shown it's willingness to lie to us and mislead us in the past.

Would the TSA be willing to try to "Save Face" on this matter and intentionally attempt to mislead the American people once again? The answer is obvious.

Submitted by Kenorasis on

I'm confused. If she had to tell officers she was wearing a brace, I assume she was wearing it under her clothes. So was the brace removed without removing her clothes? If articles of clothing were in fact removed in order to inspect the brace, at some point it becomes reasonable to characterize the affair as a strip search. It depends on the facts, which you do not provide.

So: What was removed, if anything, besides the brace? Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why was a medical appliance removed from a elderly disabled passenger? TSA needs to do a better job with people. It was not necessary to remove it to swab it!

Submitted by Anonymous on

"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."

If you are so convinced that the woman's clothes were not removed, then why are you conducting an investigation?

Nice double-speak there, Bob.

[Screenshot captured.]

Submitted by Anonymous on

I find it odd that not one singe comment about this incident was positive or in any way supported the TSA. It appears that if they needed to screen her brace they would have to request that she remove the clothing that was over the device. That is not a strip search. Also she was probably in a panic because she came to the airport too late, considering all the devices she had to bring along with her and take through the security checkpoint. Until I see the facts, I am not going to fall into the trap of always siding against the TSA, who in my opinion have an impossible job to do. The average traveler has no idea what the TSA is finding in people's luggage, no matter what age they are. Terrorists can be any age.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The entire TSA is run completely in reverse. This agency is charged with protecting the citizens of this country from harm, yet it harms the very citizens it is charged with protecting. The only thing that makes the situation worse is the TSA's constant denial of ever having done anything wrong.

Were the TSA operated in the same manner that Israeli Security runs its airports, more people would take the TSA as a credible agency. Unlike the United States which wastes millions doing random checks on passengers in a vapid attempt to "keep things fair", Israel targets those who fit certain profiles. This falls under more than just ethnicity, it goes into behaviors and known patterns of potential terrorists.

That the TSA ignores this methodology demonstrates that they have absolutely no intention of protecting the citizens of the United States. The TSA is but another functionary used to breakdown and dispirit the citizenry as to make us more compliant.

Benjamin Franklin said it best when he faced off against the bully of his era in saying that, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Short of a complete overhaul and the implementation of a citizen oversight committee, here is little the TSA can do to redeem itself. It is a thuggish Federal agency amidst a crowd of thuggish Federal agencies and all of them are directed against We the People of the United States.

How does it feel to be part of an organization that is advocating the destruction of such a great Republic?

Submitted by John Reimer on

I can see the lady's point of view, but I also see TSA's point of view (and my point of view is I want to be safe on airplanes). While the 'odds' are against an elderly lady wearing a back brace being a terrorist, they are not zero odds. Remove elderly ladies with back braces from screening and voila there's your entre to breaking the system as a terrorist. All this angst is temporary though, technology WILL advance to having non-invasive screening for explosives that won't require you to stand still with arms up to be "scanned". People will forget about it, TSA will be able to catch the explosives, and folks 50 years from now will look back and laugh at our self-imposed angst. :)

Submitted by Anonymous on

Unless there are cameras in the private screening area, then it is the word of the TSOs vs. the word of the passenger. How can you so quickly conclude then that there was no removal of clothing?

Hopefully what happened will be decided in a court, and if the TSOs did indeed violate protocol, that they are punished to the fullest extent of the law, including termination and possible prison time for sexual assault.

[Screenshot captured.]

Submitted by Allison_in_Ohio on

Sounds like the TSOs didn't take the time to work with this woman, instead treating her like an inanimate object. Maybe when your approach to security calls for treating everyone encountered as the enemy, you lose your humanity.

Having been on the receiving end of the way TSA treats "all passengers with respect and dignity" myself, my money is on Mrs. Zimmerman being the truthful party.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Give me a break..stripped searched...right! Well if all else fails...blame it on the TSA, afterall they are only trying to keep your flight safe. People are going to the airport in their you think this is for attention or maybe to prove how right they are?? I am in favor of the TSA doing what ever it is to keep me safe (other than molesting me) and keep terrorists off the plane!

Submitted by Sandra on

According to all newspaper reports, she told the TSA that she didn't want to go through WBI due to her DEFIBRILLATOR.

She also said that she always tells the screeners that she has a defibrillator and always has a pat down.

Something is rotten, Bob, and I don't think it's Mrs. Zimmerman.

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

Bob ... your use of the passive voice creates problems yet again.

You write: The item was removed, rescreened, and the passenger was cleared for travel.

Who removed the item from the passenger? Who removed the items of clothing necessary to access that item? That's an important fact to understand whether this was a "strip search" or not ...

Submitted by Anonymous on

I cannot accurately convey the visceral disgust that this story engenders. It would seem, therefore, that I'm not as good with words as Blogger Bob, whose cavalier sophistry in the face of so many intolerable acts can only be described as remarkable.

And again and again, that's what gets me the most about these stories: how cavalier the attitudes of those at the helm. How contemptuously they dismiss legitimate concerns with the wave of a hand, citing vagaries of the system or failures of communication or technical inconsistencies. The real problem, they say, is that we, the taxpaying citizens of this country, are not astute enough or forgiving enough or patient enough or compliant enough. We're too stupid or too short-sighted to perceive the myriad swarthy foreigners lurking in the eaves -- and that this abuse, this sexual degradation, is all for our own good somehow.

What do you even call a country in which you must undergo a thorough body search before you can travel on a common carrier? By what system of ethics is it governed? And how do its arbiters and defenders regard themselves? By what conscience do they know themselves in the small hours of the night, they who would so casually give up their rights and so cavalierly humiliate and defile their fellow citizens?

If our seniors must be sexually humiliated as a precondition to travel, then the terrorists, for any definition of the word, have won.

Submitted by Anonymous on

There is always greyhound no one is forced to fly. Pray the person sitting next to you don't have C4 strapped in their back brace. You know what's real having towers fall before your very eyes. You will never hear the terrorist complaining about what method they should use to destroy people.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If the TSA doesn't perform strip searches, why do TSA employees have access to paper drapes to offer to passengers who are being directed to remove their clothing?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Funny how once again the CCTV is supposedly working when you think the facts are in your favor but 'unobtainable' otherwise.

Submitted by Anonymous on

For her to have gotten to the counter at 12:19 PM for a 1:00 PM flight (which would be *10* minutes before boarding), suggest to me that grandma may be one of those elderly folks who expects the Red Sea to part at their mere approach. Having worked in the airline biz myself, first off - the airline should have rebooked her. Old folks don't travel without baggage, and she CLEARLY missed the checked baggage cutoff. That point's really moot, since she'd have still had to go through TSA. And I'm sorry, grandma - doesn't sound to me like you went through anything anybody else would have gone through. Maybe you shouldn't have opted out of the screening machine, maybe? Grandma opted out, and she got the alternative method - the pat-down. Really, folks - Where's the surprise in this story? People dont' get a "pass" for being old. Jeez - get over it.

Submitted by Anonymous on

When will you clowns realize that your obsession with groping people and rooting around under clothing has found nothing but private and harmless medical devices? You're what I worry about at the airport, not terrorists.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Google "tsa stops terrorist" and see what you find. Other people questioning the TSA... that is what. Your practices are ineffective and humiliating. Other countries have MUCH better techniques than this. The TSA needs to be removed and the US needs to replace it with something much more effective. You can randomly search people all day... no where near as effective as careful observation and asking the right questions. That is what they do in Israel and it is much more effective. So effective the US Military trains Soldiers in this technique. Ask me how I know.

Submitted by Nadav on

There is definitely something fishy about it. The difference of versions is too big.

After reading kenorasis' comment, I'm also confused. How was the back brace removed without taking off any clothes?


Submitted by Anonymous on

"John Reimer said...
I can see the lady's point of view, but I also see TSA's point of view (and my point of view is I want to be safe on airplanes). While the 'odds' are against an elderly lady wearing a back brace being a terrorist, they are not zero odds."

Every day I walk past literally thousands of people. While the 'odds' are overwhelmingly against any given one of them being a terrorist, they are not zero odds. So, naturally, I make sure to request that every single person I pass by place their hands against a wall so I can perform a quick but thorough pat-down. Don't worry-- I am always respectful!

And please-- don't assume that my insistence on "zero odds" of any given person attacking me makes me a quivering coward in any sense whatsoever. I merely perform this procedure out of an abundance of caution.

[Screen shot taken]

Submitted by Anonymous on

"TSA does not include strip searches in its protocols"

Just because it is not part of the "protocol" doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

"she was wearing a back brace or support belt which required private screening.
Private screening was conducted by two female officers. The item was removed,"

It would be impossible for her to remove her back brace without removing her clothing.

The TSA told her, "take off your clothing, remove the back brace, or you can't fly today"

That is what happened.

Submitted by Anonymous on

My money is on Mrs. Zimmerman.

If TSA wants to find some terrorist all they have to do is find a mirror.

Submitted by RB on

Bob, is Ruth Sherman a liar too?

Same airport, same terminal, same TSA employee group.

Time for an independent investigating where the real truth can be determined and corrective action taken.

We sure know that TSA will not police itself.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Another great, respectful day in the life of TSA. I can only hope some day in the very near future that TSA and it's army of rude, arrogant employees will go away or at least learn and display some respect and common courtesy for the flying public. But, then I have hopes for world peace and the elimination of hungar. Which do you think will occur first?

Submitted by Stan on

There is no reason to believe this woman is lying about how she was treated and there is no reason to believe TSA is not.

Btw, I'm glad to know it takes two officers to verify that an 85 year old woman is not a threat to an aircraft, resources well spent.

Submitted by Michael Hyatt on

I always appreciate your posts, Bob, even if so many cynical commenters don't. I think many of these people don't care about the facts; they have already come to a conclusion about the TSA. They are simply in search of the evidence.

But as someone who travels for a living, I have to say that I always appreciate the professional, courteous way I am treated by TSA agents. Thanks for all you are doing to protect our country!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Wasn't the TSA spouting that travelers could expect "Less Intrusive" procedures before the Thanksgiving holiday? A story like this makes it clear that the TSA airport screening charade is intrusive regardless of the false assurances by TSA leadership.

I also recommend the TSA find another marketing message to describe the treatment of average Americans at airport checkpoints. I travel frequently and would not say the passengers are treated with "dignity and respect" by the TSA - in fact, I would say just the opposite.

The problem with the TSA is that their words do not match their actions - outside of Washington's bureaucratic culture that's good reason for lack of trust.

Submitted by Anonymous on

When I started reading this blog, I questioned whether extra security was worth the the invasion of privacy.

After reading the many comments and thinking about it, I've come to realize that the answer in no. The TSA is causing real harm to America. They are turning us against ourselves. The terrorists must love the TSA.

To add to the insult, the TSA isn't even providing any real improvement in security. The terrorists know they are there and will just choose other targets. You can't stop terrorists by waiting for them to come to you and surrender.

Submitted by Anonymous on

[[Read here about a group of elderly men who were planning on using toxic ricin against U.S. citizens, U.S government and officials.]]

... which is, naturally, completely inert in vials smaller that 3oz ...


Submitted by Anonymous on

There is so much wrong about this story.

Let's assume that you Blogger Bob are being totally honest when you say that she had a back brace that had to be removed. How is that done without removing clothing? And why should TSA agents EVER be allowed to do anything with a person's medical device? What kind of training in back injury do they receive from the TSA?

The bottom line is the woman felt violated and I doubt she did not have a good reason for feeling that way.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I am amazed that the TSA can order a passenger to remove a medical device in order to fly.

Submitted by Anonymous on
John Reimer said...@ December 4, 2011 7:04 PM

I'll first refer to anonymous' comment at December 5, 2011 6:21 AM, and will add:

There's a non-zero chance that you could be killed today, or any other day, whether through your own or someone else's actions. The same is true for everyone, including me. Personally, I'm saddened to know that you and others are so scared to live your life that you feel that you need the government to violate someone else just so you "feel" safe to walk out your front door. I am truly saddened.

Anonymous said...@ December 4, 2011 9:19 PM
There is always greyhound no one is forced to fly.

Actually, TSA pesters people attempting to board greyhounds occasionally too. And in similar fashion, no one is forcing you to fly either.

Pray the person sitting next to you don't have C4 strapped in their back brace.

Your partially right, I would prefer that they didn't plan to use it while sitting next to me - just because they have it though, is no reason to be worried. On the other hand, if they did intend to use it, in many ways it's actually a preferred location - pretty much dead instantly.

You know what's real having towers fall before your very eyes.

Yes, it was real. The question may sound harsh, but, do you plan to live the rest of your life in fear? If so, then I am saddened for you. Personally, my fear from all of this is that we, as a country, have lost some basic freedoms and liberty (as a result) and may never get them back.

I personally see TSA playing the semantics game again. No, perhaps it wasn't a "strip search" where one is forced to remove all clothing and do the "squat and cough". However, the general public would consider the required removal of outer clothing, whether fully or partially, that exposes the under clothing, or worse, the removal of under clothing, whether fully or partially, exposing the unclothed body to be a "strip search".

Enough for now...

signed -- a saddened American.
Submitted by Bob on


Which seems more likely
1. TSOs behaving inappropriately when conducting a private screening where they know there is no video.
2. Rogue senior citizens conspiring to create lies against innocent and dutiful TSOs.

Submitted by Cfred on

You should just forget about trying to ply us with your lies. Nobody believes anything you or any representative at the TSA states anymore. Too many lies that you've been caught in telling.
Rather than trade your own dignity and integrity for a paycheck, find an honorable job where you don't have to lie through your teeth daily.

Submitted by Anonymous on

WHY did TSA make her remove her back brace? It says right on TSA's own website that medical devices don't need to be removed! Why did they remove and screen this one?

A few months ago I flew out of OKC wearing a post-surgical back brace. My doctor told me not to remove it for any reason. Yet the TSA demanded that I remove it to be screened. I refused, and was treated to one of the most brutal experiences of my life - a screening that involved pressing so hard on the brace over my recent surgical incision that I cried out in pain.

TSA says they didn't strip-search her...but they openly acknowledge that they defied their OWN policy by making an 85-yr-old woman remove a medical device.

What do you have to say about that, Bob? You posted it! Explain how the TSA can say that this passenger was treated with dignity, when you openly admit that they defied their own policy!

Submitted by Anonymous on

How was the back brace removed without stripping the elderly woman?

Why do you stress the time of arrival of this woman? Should she expect to take more than 20 min at security? Are people who arrive late more likely to have their clothes removed?

Why do you stress (twice) that she opted out of the whole body scan? Does this mean she is presumed guilty? Wouldn´t the back brace have triggered the need for a secondary anyways? Shouldn´t opting out thus speed the process up? And how does a woman that uses a walker go though a whole body scan anyway?

And what about the second granny who says she was strip-searched too?

Do you really want us to believe there are multiple octagenarians inventing these stories?

Submitted by Tandemfusion on

I generally take much of the complain with a grain of salt, but this is outrageous: you state categorically that a strip search did not take place on the basis of ZERO probative evidence other than the word of the screeners.

In other words, you accept the honesty of the screeners as a given and conclude therefore that the passenger must be dishonest when there is a conflict. Yet we know -WE KNOW- that TSA agents, hired by that same process as those involved here, and subject to the same training as those involved here, and subject to the same level of supervision involved here have NOT always proven to be honest.

There is no rational reason to presume the honesty of the screeners other than to avoid scrutiny.

Submitted by Kpmp on

Anonymous said...
Why was a medical appliance removed from a elderly disabled passenger? TSA needs to do a better job with people. It was not necessary to remove it to swab it!

I'm not a senior, and I have the SAME thing. My brace taken and swabbed, along with my leg. And I received burns from the swab that was done on my skin, but my complaints were NEVER addressed.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to hide anything in my brace. As it is elastic, for the most part, anything, even a little wad of paper will be noticible to the naked eye as a bulge in the brace. There was NO reason to single me out, put me in a glass room infront of EVERYONE going through security and being stared at by everyone who passed by, and treat me the way I was treated. It takes a lot to bring me to tears, but THAT did it! The most humiliating experience of my life!

Now, I remove my brace before I go in. Not as easy as it sounds, as I have a VERY hard time getting around without it, and the problem escallates when I am forced to remove my shoes.

Funny....when it is in the side pocket of my backpack (where it can be seen), nothing happens. They don't give it a second look. But if I'm wearing entirely different story. What the hell is the difference? Actually, while I COULD NOT put anything in it when it is on, there could very well be something wrapped in it when off. If it can be screened and pass through while in my bag, why can't the same be when on my leg?

Seems just like the new show rules. Again I ask. How are some kids' shoes so much safer than mine, they they do not need to remove them.

I fly only when I have to,once a year. and lately even that is seeming to be once a year too much.

And for those who say TSA is only trying to keep us safe... Keep convincing yourselves. If you're that terrified about flying that you're willing to put up with this crap, maybe YOU are the ones who need to find alternate transportation. After all, you are the ones living in a world of fear, not the rest of us.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Please provide TSA's definition of "strip search." I suspect you are obfuscating by using a definition that requires *all* clothes to be removed, so that if someone has to remove their underwear but gets to keep their shirt, they were not "strip searched," according to TSA. It sounds a lot like you went to the Bill Clinton School of Denial. ("I did not have ... with that woman ...")

Answer some simple questions. Was the woman required to remove her medical device as a condition of proceeding to the gate? Was the woman required to remove her pants as a condition of proceeding to the gate? Was the woman required to remove her undergarmets (underpants) as a condition of proceeding to the gate? Note that saying she was given an "option" that involved not traveling is not an answer to these questions.

Then please answer the same questions with regard to the claims by 88-year-old Ruth Sherman about another strip search at JFK.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"The TSA does not use strip searches"

Yeah right, another stinking lie from the TSA.

Do you really think we can't even remember this episode from a couple of months ago where a woman was taken off of a plane and strip searched in Chicago?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I will never forget 09-11-01. NEVER !

Submitted by Anonymous on

You sir, as well as the TSA ARE DISGUSTING
Now that ANOTHER 88 has come forward with
Similar story... Stuff it

Submitted by Anonymous on

So, you say she was not strip searched, but then you say she was made to remove a medical brace that she had to remove clothes to get to. It doesn't matter who does the removing, that woman was stripped of her clothing under the authority of the government under no reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

Please, TSA. Keep strip searching the grandmas and giving the toddlers enhanced pat-downs. It won't take much more of that for the country to be rid of you completely.

Submitted by Tramky on

We are referred to an alleged scheme by a group of old men to attack something or other, with some substance or other, as justification for THIS incident involving an elderly woman.

Well, we know of verified incidents involving subsetances inserted in the rectums of individuals on airplanes. So why doesn't TSA begin an IMMEDIATE policy of full cavity searches of everyone going through checkpoints--women, children, the elderly, the handicapped. I will feel VERY unsafe on airplanes until this policy is put into action.