Yesterday reader Ron Bonner asked “exactly what [does] TSA means by “resistance” when telling a passenger they will feel up to their “resistance” during a pat down. I am interested in knowing if a standard TSA Pat Down requires the screener to make physical contact with a persons penis, scrotum, labia, anal region, or breasts. “ This questions stems from many Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Transportation Security Officers (TSO) informing passengers they may feel “some resistance” before an enhanced pat down.
This is an interesting question; so today I sought answers from the TSA. I had hoped that a real description existed, as I had not seen one, however the officer reply from the agency is, “we cannot share with you the definition of resistance as it would be considered sensitive security information.”
Not at all being satisfied with the official answer from the agency I sought answers from a Transportation Security Officer and a Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director (DAFSD). The front line TSO described the term “resistance” as “enough pressure to ensure I am feeling if something is hidden inside a person’s clothing.”
The answer from the DAFSD was a little more detailed, “The term resistance is a non-definable term because every TSA Officer has to use their own judgment. Personally, I believe resistance is really a term for the Officer more than the passenger, although the passenger is feeling the pressure. The resistance is the pressure an Officer will feel in their fingers and palms when feeling around a person to determine if something is hidden beneath their clothing. Unfortunately screening guidelines require Officers to feel between a person’s legs, possibly under breasts and their posterior to determine if something is hidden. From experience I know Officers have in fact located hidden items under a traveler’s scrotum, under a woman’s breasts and in their posterior. Admittedly none of the items I am personally aware of were terrorism related items, although we have found razors and narcotics this way. Narcotics are not what we are searching for, a smart passenger would just hide them in a medicine bottle and place it in their baggage, but if we find them we have to report them,
The resistance pressure a person will experience during an enhanced pat down is much like going to a doctor for a hernia test, the amount of force depends on the hands of the person pushing on you. “
Why the TSA believes defining what “resistance” as sensitive security information, seems evasive and unnecessary if a true definition exists. The likely answer as to why the TSA won’t discuss the definition of resistance, in the context of a passenger pat down, is the agency has never clearly defined what resistance is, although it is a term commonly used by TSOs when speaking to travelers just before patting them down. Failure to completely define a common term used in the process of screening thousands of people a day is easier to bury in a lack of transparency than leave the agency open to further scrutiny and potential litigation when TSOs push a little harder than defined by policy.