Thursday, March 17, 2011

Alaska State Representative Sharon Cissna Testifies Before U.S. House National Security Subcommittee About TSA Abuse

Alaska State Representative Sharon Cissna was in Washington DC on March 16th, 2011, where she delivered testimony before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee's national security subcommittee about her abusive experience with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at Sea-Tac International Airport. The Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN) offers a good summary of her performance, but the Philadelphia Inquirer offers more specific details. You can see the list of people testifying HERE.

The hearing itself was originally prompted in part by two 2010 stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer about searches at Philadelphia International Airport that U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) cited in a March 2010 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. One story reported the complaints of the father of a disabled 4-year-old boy who was made to walk through metal detectors without leg braces, while the other told of a college student who was accused of packing a suspicious white powder, only to hear from the TSA employee that he was kidding. The worker was fired.

During the hearing, Cissna told the committee that the innocent phrase “pat down” didn’t even begin to describe what she went through the first time she had to get a body search after her scars registered on a scanner. She said after the hearing that the first invasive body search was a horrible experience for her, and she vowed never to go through it again. As a girl, Cissna had been touched inappropriately, she told the panel, and as a mental-health counselor since 1962, she has tended victims of abuse. The testimony was well-received by Congressman Issa, who said Cissna provided a valuable perspective he had not previously heard.

Read the 12-page transcript of Sharon Cissna's testimony HERE.

A member of Congress also testified of his experience. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) complained that he recently got taken to a back room to be thoroughly searched because he accidentally moved during a body scan. Farenthold also displayed photos of intense pat-downs, including two of young children. “There are people who would go to jail for touching a child like that,” Farenthold charged.

There was some jockeying between Democrats and Republicans on the subcommittee as to whether or not TSA officials present would have to sit next to representatives of one of their major critics, a group called the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has sued TSA five times. Finally, subcommittee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who's had his own personal battles with TSA, told TSA they would have to return another day, but ultimately changed his mind and permitted their testimony. Chaffetz has introduced legislation to bar whole-body imaging machines as primary screening devices at airports.

To testify on Wednesday, Rep. Cissna had to fly from Anchorage, but because that airport doesn't use whole-body imaging, she was comfortable. The way home was another matter. Her husband researched which East Coast airports don't use the more revealing technology or make those who set off alarms endure the invasive pat-downs. Thus the Cissnas decided to fly out of New York state, which will require a train and bus to the plane, a two-day trip.

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