Conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) lashed out once again at the Transportation Security Administration Wednesday, calling the agency "clueless" when it comes to its often-ridiculed policy of random pat-downs.
Paul told TSA administrator John Pistole in Senate hearings that his agency was "wasting its time" by using random pat-downs at airport security checkpoints instead of using more intelligence-drive risk-based methods of passenger screening.
Paul objects to the pat-down policy both on privacy and efficiency grounds. He recalled the case of Selena Drexel, a 6-year-old who in April was patted down by TSA agents before boarding a flight in New Orleans. Drexels's parents, who live in Kentucky, video-taped the pat-down and posted the video online. After it went viral, and the parents appeared on Good Morning America and elsewhere, they Selena became the poster child for TSA reform among privacy advocates and libertarians.
On Wednesday, Paul said the Drexel case is symbolic of what he sees as lacking at TSA. "It makes me think you guys are clueless that you think she's going to attack our country and you're not doing your research on the people who would attack our country."
Paul argued the "police work" would be a more effective security tool than random pat-downs, which he decried as a "politically correct" attempt to be fair to all travelers. He noted that Faisal Shazad, the accused Times Square bomber was allowed to board a flight at New York's JFK airport despite being on a terrorist watch-list.
"I think you ought to get rid of the random pat-downs. The American public is unhappy with them. They’re unhappy with the invasiveness of them, the Internet's full of jokes about the invaseiveness of your pat-down searches. And we ought (to) really just consider, is this what we’re willing to do," Paul said.
Pistole, who was on the Hill to testify on rail and mass transit security in front of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told Paul that the Drexels' much-publicized search was not really random at all.
"This of course is something that is done based on intelligence gathering from around the world,” he said. Pistole stressed that the search of Drexel had nothing to do with the 6-year-old in particular but with concerns that children could be used by adults as unwitting weapons. "Unfortunately we know that terrorists have used children under 12 years old as suicide bombers,” he said.
Pistole said TSA and the Department of Homeland Security are working on a program using passenger manifests and other voluntarily-provided information to speed passenger screening and to let agents reduce their focus on non-threatening travelers.
Paul called for a privately-run frequent traveler program to speed screenings. “Lets turn it over. Lets have a frequent flyer program you can voluntarity participate in," he said.
In 2009 TSA terminated a private frequent traveler program that operated in 19 airports. It has not sought to renew the program.