- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) yesterday stood by its decision to require a Texas airline passenger to remove a nipple ring with pliers before boarding a flight, but says more discreet screening procedures may allow sensitively placed piercings to be worn in the future.

“TSA acknowledges that our procedures caused difficulty for the passenger involved and regrets her discomfort with the situation,” said TSA spokesman Christopher White.

“In the future, TSA’s procedures will meet the security need while giving additional flexibility for this kind of screening situation,” Mr. White said. “This could include a visual inspection without removal.”

Mandi Hamlin, 37-year-old graphics artist, said she was forced to remove the nipple ring with pliers on Feb. 24 before boarding Southwest Flight 35 from Lubbock, Texas, to Dallas.

Gloria Allred, Ms. Hamlin’s lawyer, read from a letter to the TSA during a video teleconference Thursday asking the TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties to investigate the incident.

“After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing, and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove,” Ms. Allred said in the letter.

“Still crying, she informed the TSA officer that she could not remove it without the help of pliers, and the officer gave a pair to her,” said Ms. Allred.

“This encounter was one that she will never forget,” Ms. Allred said. “The conduct of TSA was cruel and unnecessary. The last time that I checked a nipple was not a dangerous weapon.”

Mr. White said security screeners properly followed procedures during the incident when they asked Ms. Hamlin to remove the piercings. One was removed easily, but the skin had grown over the second piercing stud and Ms. Hamlin asked for the pliers to remove it.

The TSA defended the extra scrutiny, saying that terrorists have hidden dangerous items in “sensitive areas of the body” in the past.

“We have a duty to the American public to resolve any alarm that we discover,” Mr. White said. “Incidents of female terrorists hiding explosives in sensitive areas are on the rise all over the world. This scenario must be addressed at our nation’s airports.”

On Nov 28, 2007, in Sri Lanka, a woman linked to the Tamil Tiger terrorist organization, detonated a bomb from her bra killing herself and one other.

TSA’s Web site informs passengers that body piercing may prompt additional screening procedures and that they may be asked “to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to a pat-down search.”

“Our security officers are well trained to screen individuals with body piercing in sensitive areas with dignity and respect while ensuring a high level of security,” Mr. White said.

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