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TSA child pat-down policy to be changed

Director responds to Senate criticism

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will soon change its policy on patting down children at airport checkpoints, the agency's director told Congress on Wednesday.

But during his Senate testimony, TSA Administrator John S. Pistole offered no details about the change and defended the agency's frisking of young air travelers.

"Although it's premature, I will be announcing something in the not-too-distant future about a change in policy as it relates to children," Mr. Pistole told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

His statement followed a series of questions from Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, referencing YouTube videos showing TSA officer frisking several children over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Mr. Paul said those physical searches of children seemed arbitrary and useless in making air travel safer.

"I feel less safe because you're doing these invasive exams on a 6-year-old," Mr. Paul told Mr. Pistole.

Mr. Pistole agreed that focusing on children was not the most efficient use of TSA resources.

"We obviously want to spend the most time on those who would be selectees [as opposed to the] very young or perhaps very old, where we could expedite their screening at airport checkpoints," Mr. Pistole said.

"We need to be smarter in how we go about doing things," he said. "We need to use more common sense."

That common sense sometimes extends to pat-downs of children, he added. "Unfortunately, we know that terrorists have used children under 12 years old as suicide bombers in other locations."

None of the pat-downs was random, including those performed on children, Mr. Pistole said. Each pat-down was based on some evidence, such as the background of the passenger or how the passenger acted during the screening process, he said.

"A lot can be done right now with enhanced behavior detection and information that passengers are willing to share with us," Mr. Pistole told the committee, explaining plans to make air and rail travel safer.

Besides Mr. Paul, other senators brought up issues with the pat-downs. Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, told Mr. Pistole "there's been some criticism of TSA over the years."

The hearing, titled "See Something, Say Something, Do Something: Next Steps for Securing Rail and Transit," focused on securing America's rail transportation, noting evidence found at dead al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan suggesting future attacks on the industry.

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