Monday, February 21, 2011

Alaska State Rep. Sharon Cissna Refuses Patdown After TSA Scanner In Seattle Reveals Anomaly From Mastectomy, Will Return To Juneau By Ferry

Update February 23rd: Alaska State House passes "State of the House" resolution supporting Rep. Cissna; Sen. Lisa Murkowski gets involved. Updated post HERE.

Alaska State Representative Sharon Cissna (D-Anchorage) will be returning from Seattle to Juneau by ferry after being unable to board her scheduled flight at Sea-Tac International Airport because she refused to submit to a patdown. The Anchorage Daily News has the primary story, but other useful information has been found in the Seattle Weekly.

The incident occurred on Sunday February 20th, 2011. Rep. Cissna had received follow-up medical treatment in Seattle, and was preparing to board her flight to Juneau. She was directed towards the scanner; she willingly complied. But because the scanner detected an unspecified anomaly associated with her mastectomy, she was then asked to submit to a patdown, in which she would be groped. She refused, left the airport, cancelled her flight, and will be taking a ferry from Bellingham to Juneau. The ferry trip takes at least 12 hours, but can be longer in the event of heavy seas or inclement weather. The ferry is part of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Update 9:16 P.M.: Rep. Cissna is now in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. She's been traveling north from Seattle by car, small plane and the Alaska state ferry system. She intends to catch the state ferry Malaspina in Prince Rupert on Tuesday and make it back to Juneau on Thursday morning. She has been excused from the legislative session through Wednesday. She also issued a lengthy statement, in which she said in part:

"...So last night, as more and more TSA, airline, airport and police gathered, I became stronger in remembering to fight the submission to a physical hand exam. I repeatedly said that I would not allow the feeling-up and I would not use the transportation mode that required it."

"For nearly fifty years I've fought for the rights of assault victims, population in which my wonderful Alaska sadly ranks number one, both for men and women who have been abused. The very last thing an assault victim or molested person can deal with is yet more trauma and the groping of strangers, the hands of government 'safety' policy. For these people, as well as myself, I refused to submit..."

Sandra Fish, a correspondent with Politics Daily who's also had a mastectomy and had a similar TSA experience at Denver International Airport, offers insight as to why the scanner may have alerted to Cissna's mastectomy. She notes that her mastectomy and reconstruction is a composition of part of her lat dorsi (mid-back muscle) and a skin graft from her back, supplemented by a sac of silicone. In response to Fish's experience in Denver, Carrie Harmon, a TSA spokeswoman, explained that the so-called "Millimeter Wave" isn't intended to detect "fake breasts". She explained that the scanner looks for metallic and non-metallic items under clothing, and suggested it could have been something else inside Fish's body.

Thus it appears that the scanner is alerting to the silicone gel, and a plastic surgeon, Dr. Winfield Hartley, opines that this will continue until the image readers and the screeners get used to seeing implant imagery.

Another mastectomy patient posting a comment to the ADN story suggested a different cause:

katiej February 21st 10:20 A.M.
After I had a mastectomy (prior to x-ray machines and pat-downs) I was pulled aside and asked to go to a room to be examined. There was a time constraint in getting to the gate for my flight and figuring it was caused by the safety pins holding the draining bags I lifted my top to reveal the mastectomy corset and the bags collecting blood. I'm sure this was the cause.

TSA is already under fire from other Alaska sources over an unrelated issue. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich were upset over TSA's decision to to cancel plans — under pressure from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) — to recruit potential employees with a publicity campaign at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. TSA defended its decision, saying officials often use geographically targeted recruitment to find new employees to work in local airports. However, the agency said it never intended the Iditarod effort to be viewed as sponsorship of the race.

Rep. Cissna was born in Seattle and has resided in Alaska since 1967. She's represented House District 22 (it was District 21 before reapportioning in 2002) in the Alaska State Legislature since 1998; in two elections, she was unopposed. She's one of those lawmakers who rarely gets her name in the papers, and has no prior record of statements about TSA.


  1. Bear arms or wear chains.

  2. You must carry a letter from the medical facility if you wish more humane treatment. Most patients (like myself) don't know this until they are pulled aside into a filthy room and two TSA officers are threatening to rifle through gauze bandages, and drainage tubes to reveal the horror I have just gone through. And don't bother complaining to the ACLU. They will do nothing but pass the buck. They are too busy with higher profile issues than this.