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Change made to airport screenings for youngsters

- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government has made a change in its policy for patting down young children at airport checkpoints, and more are promised.

Airport security workers now are told to make repeated attempts to screen young children without resorting to invasive pat-downs, John S. Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, said Wednesday.

There was public outrage in April over a video of a 6-year-old girl getting a pat-down at the New Orleans airport. She was patted down, Mr. Pistole said, because she moved during the electronic screening, causing a blurry image.

That kind of pat-down was put in place partly because of the Nigerian man who got past airport security, boarded a plane with explosives hidden in his underpants and tried to use the bomb to bring down the airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

But this screening has been criticized as being too intrusive and an unnecessary measure for children and older people who seem to pose no terror threat.

Last month, a picture of a baby being patted down at Kansas City International Airport gained worldwide attention as well. The baby's stroller set off an alert of possible traces of explosives, so the screeners were justified in taking a closer look at the boy cradled in his mother's arms, the agency said.

Mr. Pistole, testifying at a hearing on transportation security by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said his agency has been working on a new policy for the use of pat-downs on children and an announcement will come soon.

Terrorists in other countries have used children as young as 10 years old as suicide bombers, Mr. Pistole said, although that hasn't happened in the United States. "We need to use common sense," he told lawmakers.

Some of the first information gleaned from Osama bin Laden's compound after he was killed by U.S. forces in May indicated that al Qaeda considered attacking U.S. trains on the upcoming anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Counterterrorism officials have said they believe the planning never got beyond the initial phase and have no recent intelligence pointing to an active plot for such an attack.

But the evidence from bin Laden's compound shows what U.S. officials have been saying for years: Terrorists remain interested in attacking transportation nodes, such as airplanes and trains.

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