Do TSA agents have a breast fixation?

Amy Strand’s little breast pump problem is just the latest in a long line of gaffes by the men and women of the TSA. But mostly, the men.

If you haven’t already heard, here’s what happened to Strand when she tried to board a plane from Lihue to Maui, where she works as a high school vice principal: A male TSA agent who noticed her breast pump insisted she show him the full bottles of milk before she could board her plane with the device.

And yes — you guessed it — that meant Strand had to disgorge some of her own breast milk. In the semi-privacy of the women’s bathroom. Not an easy task when you’re traveling with a nine-month-old.

Strand says she felt “humiliated.”

The TSA issued a semi-apology, accepting responsibility for the “apparent misunderstanding” and admitting the pump was incorrectly screened.

This isn’t the first time the agency charged with protecting America’s transportation systems has spilled a little breast milk.

To say the TSA has a breast fixation might be putting it politely. Some might call it a fetish.

If Strand needs a crying shoulder, she might call Stacey Armato, another young mother who had a little run-in with TSA agents in Phoenix a few years ago. She didn’t want her breast milk X-rayed, so they subjected her to what she and a vast majority of people who watched her video consider a degrading screening experience. Or Heidi Souverville, who wasn’t allowed to bring her breast pump at all when she flew in 2007. (The reason? Breast milk is a liquid. And liquids are dangerous.)

At least none of these women were forced to drink their own breast milk. Yeah, that’s happened.

It goes beyond nursing. Consider Alaska State Rep. Sharon Cissna, a breast cancer survivor who now wears a prosthesis. Agents aggressively tried to screen her artificial breast in 2010, in a “horrifying” physical check that she said was more invasive than a doctor’s exam. And since she’s an elected representative, Alaska is now considering a bill that would criminalize the TSA’s controversial pat-downs.

TSA agents spend more time than the average American male asking, “Are they real.” Problem is, they have the authority to make you prove it. They did to this former flight attendant and cancer survivor, who had to remove her prosthesis like Cissna.

The TSA’s fascination with breasts goes to the highest level. Last year, authorities warned that “new” intelligence showed terrorists may try to sneak explosives onto airplanes by surgically stitching them inside suicide bombers. These dangerous bombs could come in the form of breast implants, they cautioned. While many female passengers were fondled as a result of this vague warning, no boob-bombers were apprehended.

The TSA hasn’t showed the flying public any credible evidence that large-breasted women want to blow up our planes. Rather, their paranoid conjecture sounds like the creation of a Hollywood scriptwriter or the fantasy of a red-blooded American TSA agent (He: “Ma’am, what do you have under that sweater?” Her: “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”)

Is it any surprise that passengers have had enough of being fondled? That may explain why Yukari Mihamae, a writer and translator who lives outside Denver, struck back by allegedly groping and squeezing a TSA agent’s breast in Phoenix a few years ago. She was arrested and reportedly is facing a felony count of sexual abuse, but has also become something of a folk hero.

Apart from the obvious question — how do you recruit, hire and train a workforce with such a single-minded fixation on one part of the female anatomy? — there’s a more important pressing issue to the flying public.

What, exactly, is the TSA protecting us from?

Breast milk in tiny bottles? Let’s think about that one for a minute. A new mom is about as likely to go all Jihadist on you as an incontinent grannie in a wheelchair. If the TSA took just a few minutes to consider it, then it would lay off the nursing mothers and let their breast pumps pass through their X-ray machines without flinching or blushing.

Is the TSA protecting us from cancer survivors? Why would a survivor of anything try to kill herself? Maybe they can explain that to folks like Cissna, the Alaska lawmaker. What makes her breast prosthesis — and specifically her — so dangerous to aviation security?

Are agents protecting us from large-breasted women? Ah, now we get the the heart of the matter: the TSA’s apparent breast fixation. Well-endowed women make an easy and desirable target for the TSA’s underpaid, mostly male workforce.

But there’s no easy solution. Memos, rhetoric and expensive sensitivity training won’t fix it. Because in order to treat passengers with respect and dignity, you must first respect yourself.

(Photo: ga zoumou/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Bob

    I was randomly selected for patdown after going through the metal detector in Atlanta without setting off any alarms.  After the patdown, the female agent told me I could go.  The male supervisor told me to stop because my breast area had not been screened thoroughly enough.  He stood over us as he directed the female agent to rub under my breasts and across my nipples two more times. That hurts.  I remember a teenage girl with her head craned back staring in horror as she passed with her family. :(

  • Sam Varshavchik

    One of my goals for 2012 is to finish the year without needing to fly.

    So far so good. I’m right on schedule (I’ll just pretend to ignore my last trip, that spilled into 2012, I’m purging it from my memory,l ike it never happened).

    Not because I have any breasts to worry about, of course. But, I think that this whole thing has jumped the shark, and is just not worth it, any more.

    For my next planned trip, I’m gassing up the Sammymobile, and hitting the highway, in full comfort that my big, roomy SUV can provide. Stopping for a break whenever I feel like, and getting to fully enjoy all the sights and wonders across the fruited plain that are there for everyone to discover, and enjoy.

  • cjr001

    When it comes to TSA, everybody should simply expect to be incorrectly screened.

  • Bill Armstrong

    I think you should get comparisons of how passengers are screened in other countries vs. the USA.  European ones, Canada, etc.

  • Kip Hartwell

    Is there an actual question here?

    I would quote “quis custodiet ipsos custodes” if I was not afraid of the answer.

  • flip44

    If Ms. Strand and others who have been challenged for their breast milk content, and questioned about that (evil) devise of a breast pump, and have the chuzpah, they should strip to the waist in front of the public and use the breast pump in front of the TSA agents.  I am sure every camera and iPhone camera will immediately record this event, that will go viral on You Tube.  That is the best way to embarrass them and end this idiocy.
    Yukari Mihamae, who retaliated by squeezing the male TSA agent’s breast (and was charged with a felony) should have given him a swift kick to the groin, with an, “Oops, sorry.”
    The judge should dismissed the case (was it?)
    TSA agents seem to relish anything that will spice up a dull day.

    Also, as Chris has pointed out, they are not ‘officers of the law.’
    The gold badge they wear, is to intimitate, and is a phony purchased from the Dollar Store (with your money).

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    I read this story last night online and one of the more salient things this poor woman said (in another article) was:

    “It really confuses me as to how an empty breast pump and cooler pack are a threat to national security and 20 minutes later, with milk, they no longer pose a threat to national security,” 

    TSA is a farce, plain and simple.  There’s no continuity to the rules, as using one’s best judgment has flown out the window with this organization.  It seems training the agents properly just isn’t a priority.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    I looked up the woman’s name in the Arizona Public Access site and it doesn’t show up.  (This happened at Sky Harbor)  Either they made it unavailable or dismissed it and removed it entirely.  Arizona only has two handfuls of courts unavailable on this system and the only one in Maricopa County unavailable for look-up is the Maricopa Superior Court for non-criminal cases.

    Either way, it’s an embarrassment to TSA and their removing it is, IMHO, an attempt to pretend it didn’t happen.

  • LFH0

     This illustrates the absurdity of “thorough” TSA screening. Doing such screenings encourages people to look for other means of transportation besides flying. A substantial number of those people turn to driving. There is a well-defined fatality rate associated with driving (and about 40,000 people each year are killed in the United States from driving), and it is substantially higher than the fatality rate from terrorists on airplanes.

    Thus, if we know the by which Americans are deterred from flying, and the characteristics of their choices to drive instead, we can actually project, with accuracy, the number of Americans that will be killed as a result of TSA screening efforts. Undoubtedly, the TSA will cause more people to die from automobile collisions each year than the number of deaths it will prevent from airplane terrorists (if any).

    (I, too, have given up flying. But being a non-driver, I now travel more by railroad, motorcoach, and ocean liner.)

  • ClaireWalter

    I wonder what would happen if a noticeably aroused male passenger was going through a screening area — aroused perhaps by a TSA screener’s diligence with a nursing mother or other buxom woman. 

  • Cybrsk8r

    I plan on taking the auto train to FL next time I go.

  • sassee42

    I was victim to a pat down that left me red faced.  This has past the point of security to invading personal space.  It is TIME to bring in the dogs now.  THEY will not let anyone thru that is carrying a bomb.  They are marvelous at their job, AND they won’t leave you shaking and embarassed. 

  • Daisiemae

    No amount of training will turn a stupid, incompetent, cruel, sadistic, sexual predator and/or thief into an intelligent, capable, morally upright, competent professional.

    It’s time to make a clean sweep of all these criminals and start over with screeners who are required to follow the laws of the land. It’s time to take back our country from these Nazis being paid with our hard earned tax dollars. They are a scourge and a pestilence on our beautiful country!

    They are a running sore and it’s time to amputate!

  • lvswhippets

     Aren’t most men

  • Sommer Gentry

     I sent a sympathy card and donation to Yukari last year, and I received a reply recently thanking me and updating me that the state is still pressing charges against her over the incident.  Yukari’s handwritten letter was heartbreaking.  The TSA is determined to make criminals out of the respectable, decent people that they abuse.

  • Sommer Gentry

    The TSA at Boston Airport are notorious breast-grabbers.  I have been boycotting BOS since 2004.  That’s when the sicko male screeners at the old AirTran terminal D started making a routine out of sending all the female screeners to other checkpoints.  They would threaten to make me miss my flight if I didn’t allow them to place their filthy lecherous hands all over my breasts. 

    In another sickening screening (this one in India), a woman placed the fronts of her open palms directly on my nipples and ran them around and around in little circles as if she were a teenage boy in heat.

    Hey security clowns: my breasts, my business.  Keep your molesting hands off.

  • Chasmosaur

    Completely and totally.

    I have a breast prosthesis for congenital reasons, not because I’ve had a mastectomy.  Since this is something I’ve been dealing with since I was about 14 or 15, I’m not traumatized or embarrassed by my condition, but I certainly don’t like to discuss it in public.  I certainly don’t show it to many people either – I can count on one hand the people who have seen it, and that includes the fitter.

    And I stopped wearing it to travel after I was patted down by a TSO in 2002 (back when I *obviously* looked like a female suicide bomber with olive skin and curly dark hair).  The TSO could feel the difference between my natural breast and the prosthetic (because back then, the pat down was palms-down on top of the breasts – none of the relatively polite edge of hand under and between, thank you very little…).  I was asked to remove it.  In public.  So they could handle it.  Not at all delicately or quickly.  Then they handed it back to me like I was just going to tuck it back into my bra.

    I ended up carefully packing it into my carry-on, and washing it at least 5 or 6 times when I got to my destination.  I didn’t actually wear it again for about a month and I’d washed it many, many more times. 

    There are some tricks of dressing and padding that I can use when I’m not wearing my prosthesis to make my condition less obvious, and it’s how I travel now.  I don’t want something I wear next to my skin pawed at by random strangers, and I certainly don’t want someone to pull it out of my carry-on after x-ray.  If nothing else, I don’t want them to break the prosthesis, as they squeezed it pretty aggressively.

    I do know the few times I’ve gone through AIT, my asymmetrical breast line always resulted in an “anomaly” that triggered a pat-down.  (One was even a mini-pat down centered only on my chest.) I opt-out because they are less likely then to focus on my chest area.

  • Linda Jordan

    These stories are disgusting and senseless! I’m appalled at the insensitivity of the TSA. My husband travels with a CPAP machine in his carry on and not once has he been asked to “fall asleep with it on so we can see it’s really a medical machine.”  If you’ve never seen a CPAP machine before it’s more daunting than a breast pump. But then again he’s a male!

  • Amy Godden

    I have traveled frequently in from Canada to Europe, and within Europe and while I have had a few pat downs I’ve never experienced anything like the described TSA’s pat downs. Most of the airports are still using the older metal detectors, a few with the 360 degree scanners, in either case the security staff have all be professional, polite, quick and to the point. Perhaps the TSA staff should take some pointers from other countries? 

  • Lisa Simeone

    No, Yukari Miyamae did not grope and squeeze a TSA agent’s breast.  That is false.  That is crap that was put out there by the TSA propaganda machine.  Read what she said.  As she was surrounded by a group of these thugs, she merely turned around and put her hands up in front of her body to protect herself.  In doing so, her hand brushed against one of the clerks.  That’s it.

  • MarkieA


  • LeeAnneClark

    My personal experience is that the TSA is not as obsessed with my breasts, as with my crotch!  In two abusive and sexually humiliating pat-downs, the focus on my crotch was unmistakable and shocking.  In the first experience, the screener knelt in front of me, with her face inches away from my crotch.  She ran her hand up the inside of my thigh, all all the way up until she touched my labia.  She then ran the back of her hand across my pubis, pressing in until I could feel it deep in my sex organs.  I was wearing tight leggings that hid nothing, so I don’t know what purpose was served by pawing my genitals.  Nobody has touched me like that except my husband in 30 years, and it left me feeling raped, crying and shaking in humiliation.

    In the second incident, when a particularly brutal TSO ran her hand up the inside of my thigh, she did so FAST and HARD, with her thumb pointed up, and RAMMED her hand so hard up into my crotch that her thumb penetrated between my labia.  When it caused me to flinch and cry out in shock, she jumped back and started shouting “I can’t screen this lady!  She won’t let me screen her!”  A supervisor came to stand by, and she did it again!  This time, when I flinched and jumped, the supervisor threatened to walk me out of the airport.  I demanded another person do the screening, so the supervisor did it, but she also seemed to pay specific attention to my crotch (although fortunately not quite so aggressively).

    So I would say that, given all of the reports of breast obsession, and my personal experience with crotch obsession, the TSA is just plain perverted.

  • y_p_w

    Dogs may be too sensitive to explosives.  Someone who has set off any kind of fireworks within the past day would probably attract the attention of a sniffer dog.  Someone who went target shooting in the past day would probably still have powder residue on the hands, even after washing them.

    I think sniffer dogs are a great resource if there’s a known threat, but they’re not that great for screening people for explosives.

  • mom_in_amarillo

    I stand by my post from a couple of years ago…I think it must be a qualification of the job to be a complete idiot to even apply to the TSA.  So concerned with breasts, babies, grannies and Senators that they wouldn’t know a real threat if it fell out of the sky, hit them in the foot and started flopping. 

  • cjr001

    And that’s the real problem here. For all the propaganda, for all the pornoscanners and groping, for all the power tripping and treating everybody as a threat…

    When a real threat comes along, TSA will spectacularly fail.

  • Daisiemae

    That’s right. And the cop who was standing there saw exactly what happened. Yet he instigated the screener to charge sexual assault when he knew fully well it was not.

    The cop and the screener both should be prosecuted for false arrest and false testimony.

  • Sadie_Cee

    It was painful for me to read this.  I could not vote either.  All that I have to say is that this agency has GOT TO GO.  No more, no less.

  • Daisiemae

    And then they will institute even more draconian restrictions and more abusive policies while they will request even more money from Congress.

  • Terri Lundberg

    First let me state that I have NO love for TSA.  I think their so-called terrorist prevention methods lack common sense and I don’t think the agency is making us any “safer.”  And, I absolutely don’t agree with the x-ray machines or the enhanced pat downs.  However, I have to say, and I hate to say it too soon, especially since I will be traveling by air again this weekend, but I’ve been pat down so many times, and I’ve never experienced anything like the situations in this article or what I’m reading in the comments.  I refuse to go through the xray machine so in every situation in which I was asked, I’ve opted for the pat down.  I think I’ve been pat down at least 50 times, and each time everyone has been professional and respectful. *knock on wood*

  • Michelle Cox

    My baby was drinking a bottle as we walked through security, and they made me stop giving it to her so they could do the “sniff” test. I didn’t have any issues bringing the breast pump through security…didn’t even know it could have been an issue. How is that piece of equipment different from any other electrical device that someone brings though?

  • LeeAnneClark

    Terri, let’s hope it stays that way…but don’t count on it. I fly relatively frequently, and most of my pat-downs have been acceptable (if annoying because, benign or not, they are still a useless invasion of my body by strangers).  But if you fly often enough, you likely will have a horrible one.  I’ve had two, and I still feel ill when I think about them.

  • LeeAnneClark

    It’s not.  The agent who forced the poor woman to pump her milk into it was not only a complete moron, but wasn’t even following any actual TSA rule.  I can’t even fathom how he could have THOUGHT that you had to have milk in the device to bring it onboard!  It’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard, and pretty much exemplifies the basic intelligence level of the dolts the TSA hires to “keep us safe” (ha).

    Here’s what I figure:  the problem is that the device produces a liquid, and as we all know, liquids are not allowed to be brought onto the plane.  So since the guy knew that the device WOULD have liquid in it in the future, he wanted to make sure he had a chance to SEE the liquid that was going to be in it, to make sure it wasn’t a dangerous bomb-making liquid.  Because garsh, we all know that the human breast can produce bomb-making liquids!

    Given this guy’s train of thought, perhaps we should all be peeing into bottles at the checkpoint, because if our bladders are full then we’re carrying liquids onto the plane, and darn it, that’s just not allowed!

  • Lisa Simeone

    Terri, you’ve been lucky.  Look:    

  • SooZeeQ

    Get rid of all of them and hire police that need a second job or retired police for these positions!!

  • Spanky_McF

    Overheard in the screening area: “Oh yeah, now pump it faster…  faster…”

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    That was so kind of you to do that, Sommer.  I wish the state would just drop the charges against her rather than cover it up.