TSA Watch: So they got Miss USA — what happens now?

Editor’s note: I’m starting a new feature called “TSA Watch” that offers a weekly critique of a federal agency many say is out of control. Why? Because no one else is.

By now, anyone with a computer knows that Susie Castillo, a model and former Miss USA, endured what she claims to be an aggressive pat-down at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport earlier this week, which included having her private parts touched by a TSA screener.

I won’t rehash what’s in the video (above) except to make a few notes and tell you what it probably means. I thought it was interesting that Castillo was trying to avoid the full-body scanner but was “caught” and sent to have a pat-down. I wonder if TSA is looking for people who are intentionally trying to avoid the lines with the scanners. That wouldn’t surprise me.

The other item of interest comes later in the clip, in which Castillo describes her interaction with an airport volunteer. Castillo is crying, and the volunteer tries to comfort her. But when the subject of the TSA’s screening methods comes up, the volunteer says something to the effect of, “I’d rather have this than be blown up.”

I’ve heard that argument time and again, from some colleagues in the travel industry and commenters on this site. I believe they’re just one enhanced pat-down from changing their minds.

The TSA hasn’t said much about this incident, although a spokesman late yesterday told Castillo’s local newspaper, the Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass., that the screener was questioned and that Castillo’s pat-downs was done “correctly.”

You can believe that if you want to. Or not.

The bigger question is: What does all of this mean? Some have recently suggested that American air travelers have accepted, even embraced, the TSA’s scan-or-pat-down proposition. For them, Castillo is just another whiner who doesn’t realize that we’re at war, here. If she could only understand that the brave men and women of the TSA were there for her own protection, then she’d shut up and let them touch her. (If you think I’m exaggerating, read the comments on the Eagle-Tribune story I linked to in the last paragraph.)

But others believe the so-called “gate rape” of Castillo is the final straw. On her blog, Castillo concludes a lengthy post about her pat-down with the following:

Like I say in the video, we as individuals have to speak up and protect our liberty. If you feel like your Constitutional rights have been violated by the TSA, please follow my lead and contact your Congressional representatives. Let them know that if they want your vote they must stand up for our rights.

She’s started a petition on Twitter and on Change.org, and if the comments on her site are to be believed, many are supporting it.

Who knows, maybe this incident marks the beginning of the end of the TSA’s well-intentioned but terribly misguided screening techniques? As the summer travel season approaches, it wouldn’t shock me to see the pat-downs and body-scanners quietly be “retired” or rarely enforced, just like the current liquid and gel rule.

If we could only get the TSA to start telling the truth as well. Too bad there’s no way to legislate that.

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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  • Annapolis2

    Susie Castillo is a hero for speaking out about her justifiable anger and trauma at being forced to engage in non-consensual sexual contact with a stranger. Will she help end the TSA’s sexually abusive garbage? I ardently hope so.

    Every body is different. Sexual organs, even external ones, have innervation and sensitivity to touch, and sensation in one’s genitals will physiologically cause a mental and emotional reaction. That reaction differs from person to person. I know it’s true that for some people the reaction is aw no big deal, but there are many, many people that I have spoken to for whom the reaction is absolutely devastating. This is sexual touching, forced on unwilling victims as they stand in a powerless position, manipulated and coerced by a complete stranger who’s backed up by the full power of the state. People who are compassionless jerks and insensitive cowards impose this torment and anguish on thousands of innocent men, women, and children. This is an injustice, an immoral and inhumane abuse.

    When the U.S. government illegally imprisoned thousands of citizens of Japanese origin during a previous “help me i’m so scared” bed-wetting moment in history, it took about three years for the Supreme Court to end that nightmare. Justice works slowly, but I’m praying it works quickly this time.

  • frostysnowman

    Of course the TSA screener would say Ms. Castillo’s pat down was done correctly. Would we expect anything less?
    I don’t think this marks the beginning of the end of anything. In a little this site’s regular TSA-supporting commenters to come along with their thoughts about how Castillo is a whiner, she shouldn’t have been trying to avoid the lines with the scanners (if, in fact she was), that makes it her fault, etc. That attitude is almost scarier than the fact that the TSA treats every single person who wants to fly somewhere like a potential terrorist.
    I imagine the airport volunteers are instructed to say exactly what the one in this story did if they encounter someone who’s upset due to a pat down. Can’t have airport employees not tow the company line, can we?

  • Lisa Talbott

    I was lucky enough to work with Ms. Castillo on the TV show School Pride, and just wanted to put my two cents in before any comments came through about her being an over-sensitive beauty queen. Susie is and incredibly dedicated, incredibly hard working lady who put in longer days and got just as dirty as any volunteer while we rebuilt schools. She dealt with 100 degree heat, flood clean up duties, and thousands of displaced children. She has a very level head on her shoulders, and I truly believe that this is one person who would not complain if it were not warranted. Hopefully someone at TSA or elsewhere in government will take notice.

  • Lakelady29

    TSA either needs to install scanners in every single airport or stop admit their patdowns are a farce. I wish I, a single individual, had the power that we’ve given the underwear bomber. One man has been allowed to change the face of travel in this country. Amazing! I’d rather face the risk of cancer from a scanner than face the sexual assault administered by a TSA agent.

  • Jjweldon

    The real problem is that terrorists have given us one absolute – no one will ever be allowed on a commercial airliner again in the US without being checked. People have clearly said they don’t want scanners. What is left beyond a pat down? I’ve heard a lot of complaining but no one has offered a solution.

    A complicating factor is that you don’t have to fly. Flying is not something humans need to do. There are other methods of transportation that are less convenient but available.

  • Gaduwhi

    This is not “non-consensual”. She had the choice to turn around and walk out.

  • Annapolis2

    No, it’s fear-blind cowards like you that give us the “absolute” of sexually abusive patdowns. The solution is real airport security to replace the pretend security of electronic strip searches and child molestation. Real security efforts involve intelligence operations and police work that respect the rule of law. Shoving your hands up into the sexual organs of someone who is not a suspect doesn’t make anyone any safer.

    But I see your point about how Susie Castillo should have just walked, or hitchhiked through Central and South America in order to access Rio de Janeiro. This is not about convenience; freedom of movement is recognized by the United Nations among our basic freedoms in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ratified by the United States. The extreme danger involved in a land transit through Central and South America should obviously place your suggestion in the realm of the absurd. We have a right to travel. Air travel is most assuredly the only option to reach places even in within the United States, like Adak, Alaska.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    No, she didn’t. We’re tired of repeating all the arguments and evidence we’ve repeated before. You are a prisoner when you set foot in an American airport these days. You don’t have any rights there anymore.

  • cjr001

    “I’ve heard a lot of complaining but no one has offered a solution.”

    And I’ve heard this so many times that the people saying it must have their heads buried so deep in the sand that they’ve forgotten what the sky looks like.

  • cjr001

    You know what’s really awful?

    The ‘war’ argument is being used to justify almost anything and everything. It’s being used to destroy our 1st Amendment rights and 4th Amendment rights. It’s being used to justify behavior that would otherwise land people in jail and on sexual predator lists.

    And it’s just another sign of how far this country has fallen.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    As we’ve repeated, over and over and over again, the TSA isn’t stopping at airports; they’re expanding to all other forms of transportation. I have posted proof of this on this site more than once; so has Chris. So telling people to stop flying won’t help.

    And also as we’ve repeated, you don’t lose your Constitutional rights in a puff of smoke based on where you are. Your right not to be assaulted isn’t contingent on your location. So the whole “flying isn’t a right” is bullsh*t and shows people don’t understand the legal meaning of rights.

    And again as we’ve repeated again and again, the TSA hasn’t caught a single terrorist or thwarted any attacks in its existence. Not one. No one got blown up by a bomb smuggled on board a plane even before the TSA existed, let alone before the scanners and gropefests existed. (Lockerbie was 1988, bomb in cargo, not via passenger.) No passenger got a bomb onto a plane. That is fact. Unlike the fiction of A Terrorist Is Hiding Around Every Corner! So Please Stick Your Fingers Up My Ass To Keep Me Safe!

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Editor’s note: I’m starting a new feature called “TSA Watch” that offers a weekly critique of a federal agency many say is out of control. Why? Because no one else is.

    Chris, as you know, I tried. For a long time. Finally gave up a few weeks ago. Got tired of being shouted down by supposed allies and people who supposedly understand the concept of civil liberties, when in fact they’re cowards. They don’t get it. And won’t. Not until they personally are affected by these gross abuses.

  • Grey83

    For those who want to follow this closely there is a FB group that cronicles the injustices

    http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/wontfly

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    cjr, indeed. That’s precisely what’s going on. Permanent state of war, at home and abroad. That’s how our overlords can keep the abuse coming, with the complicity of a willing public. The National Security State is, in fact, the only part of the economy that’s growing. Jobs, jobs, jobs! TSA molester, DHS spy, or soldier of fortune. Employment in a down economy! What could be better?!

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    But this is a false dichotomy. First of all, even if the pointless stripsearch scanners were in every single security line at every single airport all over the country, there would still be “anomalies.” There would still be bullsh*t excuses our TSA overlords would come up with to claim they needed to perform a grope. You can’t have one without the other. Acquiescing to these worthless scanners was the first step down this path. That’s why some of us were fighting about this 18 months ago, when they were first introduced in two “test” airports, Boston and Las Vegas. That was even before the concern about health risks.

  • Carver

    This isn’t discussion, this is venting and attacking. Even before the first so called TSA apologist commented we, the reader are treated to vitriolic comments including:

    compassionate jerks and insensitive cowards
    torment and anguish
    injustice
    immoral and inhumane abuse

    And that’s just the first post. At least Annapolis restrained herself from making the Nazi death camps comparison, stopping at the US Japanese internment camps.

    We then move to baseless accusations that Castillo will be accused of being a whiner. Not that anyone actually made that accusation, but since when are facts important.

    We then return to Annapolis attacking a poster whom he/she disagreed with calling him a “fear blind coward”

    Great start for this column.

  • Leeannewrites

    You’re wrong. The TSA has made it clear that once you have entered the secure area, you cannot leave without incurring an up to $11,000 fine. That’s what they threatened the “don’t touch my junk” guy with. Did you forget about that? You can’t just “walk out” once they select you for the scanner.

  • djp

    That while TSA complaint system is utterly useless. I have had complaints at SEATAC and actually addressed these issues on my return flight where I wanted to speak to an administrative supervisor and explained the situation to her and told her I am telling you so you will try and fix it and her attitude was I will get to it when hell freezes over.

    Her submitting this car will take 4-6 weeks for them to process and by then they have no idea who was on staff at that time. When you ask for the TSA agents names they refuse to provide their names.

  • Dpmench

    Did you have a discussion point, or are you just venting?

  • Bill

    I’ve had my liberties and rights (to clean air) threatened thousands of times more by smokers puffing away in prohibited areas than I have ever had trouble with TSA agents.

    I fly again very shortly, I guess we’ll see.

  • Eleanordew

    You know, what puzzles me is that TSA is openly flouting the instructions of the Congress of the United States, and getting away with it. Congress instructs the TSA to show up at a Congressional hearing, for God’s sake, and TSA refuses — and Congress does nothing about it.

    Congress has already told the TSA that it has to do a study on the effects of the WBI scanners (or ATI or whatever they want to call them), then report the results of that study to Congress before implementing the program.

    And yet, the TSA has gone ahead and implemented the scanning program without the consent/direction of Congress. How are they getting away with this? Is our government so toothless that a rogue agency can take over?

  • Grey83

    And if they get caught there should be a fine. What happens when the TSA violates your rights and basically assaults you? The answer is nothing.

  • Carver

    Of the various anti-TSA posts, this one concerns me. Do you have a link to share? Under no circumstances should a federal agency oppose Congress.

  • Eleanordew

    Yes, I can.

    http://transportation.house.gov/hearings/hearingdetail.aspx?NewsID=1228

    You’ll notice if you watch the video of the proceedings that John Pistole, head of the TSA, and John Schwartz, head of the TWIC program run by the TSA, did not bother to show up.

  • frostysnowman

    Leeannewrites is correct about not being able to leave once you are in the “secure” area.

  • frostysnowman

    You know very well that every time Chris runs a story about people who’ve been upset over a TSA pat-down, there are at least one or two (or more) commenters who say that people need to get over it, stop whining, I had one and it wasn’t a problem for me, she could just not fly, etc.

  • scoots

    When will this change? When congress is subjected to the same screening process as the American public. Change the law so ALL people are required to go through security in the same manner, no special perks, and see what happens.

  • Eric

    I say this one more time. Weapons on a plane are no longer a threat because the other passengers would do exactly what the heroes on Flight 93 did. Explosives are a threat, but you can’t handle or transport explosives without residue being detected on you clothes or body. You could literally shower three times after handling explosives, and there are still detectors sensitive enough to catch it.

  • MarkieA

    So, you really, really haven’t heard anyone suggest PROFILING? That nasty word that no PC American likes to use? Because every time this subject is broached on this blog, at least three people suggest it. Or is it that you don’t want to hear it? Hire some PROFESSIONALS at TSA – like the Israelis do- and take care of this in a way that has seemed to prove effective.

  • jsteele98

    “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”
    — James Madison

    Somewhere in the caves of Pakistan a bunch of Al Queda are laughing their a**es off at how easy it was to change America into a police state. And if you think it can’t happen here remember that’s what the people of Germany thought in 1936.

    The terrorists have won; they have our government violating our Constitution in the name of “protecting” us.

  • George2012

    The TSA is not well intentioned, their whole existence is to condition people to accept a fascist tyranny. And to think the TSA agent would say it wasn’t done correctly? Talk about the fox watching the henhouse.

  • Grey83

    Wrong

  • Grey83

    This is a great quote

  • Frank Clarke
  • Frank Clarke

    When TSA agents begin to contemplate this, their jobs will not seem all that much fun, unless…

    Since this scenario hasn’t actually happened yet, there can be only two explanations: one: a severe shortage of suicide-minded terrorists locally; or, two, the terrorists (if such actually exist) see no particular value in making us MORE paranoid than we already are.

    And why should they? They’ve already gotten everything they could ever have wanted. We are now The Land of the Fee and The Home of the Slave, and we volunteered for it.

    If the terrorists really hated us then because we were so free, they must love us now.

  • Carver

    Yes, God forbid people have dissenting opinions.

  • Eric

    This does not appear to be a hearing about passenger screening. It is about embedding security devices in pilot licenses. That being said, the FAA was the only agency which sent anyone to this hearing.

  • Eric

    Great article. And everything he says is absolutely true.

  • cjr001

    Yes, the ‘dissent’ has been that groping and pornoscanners are ok.
    That giving away all your Constitutionally granted rights is ok.
    That you should shut up, bend over, take it, and enjoy because it’s somehow the American way.

  • Eleanordew

    You’re right, it’s not a hearing about passenger screening. However, Pistole and Schwartz were requested to testify at the hearing, and they refused.

  • 1amwendy

    ” In a hearing before the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, EPIC urged Congress to suspend the use of airport body scanners for primary screening. EPIC said the devices were not effective and were not minimally intrusive, as courts have required for airport searches. EPIC cited TSA documents obtained in EPIC’s FOIA lawsuit which showed that the machines are designed to store and transfer images, and not designed to detect powdered explosives. EPIC was joined on the panel by radiation expert Dr. David Brenner, who has frequently pointed out the radiation risks created by these machines. The TSA, which is a federal agency funded by taxpayer dollars and responsible for the body scanner program, originally refused to testify at hearing. “

  • sara8032

    There’s been plenty of suggestions as options to the scanners and invasive pat-downs.
    Firstly to re-organize CIA and FBI and their communication channels, along how they interact with local law-enforcement, as especially for the CIA it’s been even offered as an ‘excuse’ for them not having caught the underwear bomber before he boarded a plane tot he US that they have such incredibly huge and widespread intelligence gathering around the world that it’s actually too large, and so the information that is gathered doesn’t get to the right people, or get connected to show the dangers in time.
    This is what you want to do to catch “evil-doers” before they reach not just airports, but also stadiums, festivals, high rises or any place where large (or small) number of people gathers.

    At airports (and other necessary security check points) in addition to typical check to make sure passengers are not on no-fly lists etc (perhaps these should also actually be kept up to date, hm?) security check points would ideally involve traditional metal detectors / wands, and dogs. (Let me repeat that, D-O-G-S, dogs.) It’s been proven how sensitive dogs noses are and since dogs are already used for bomb sniffing, drug sniffing of various kinds, among so many other uses, it would only make sense that trained explosives sniffing dogs would be able to accomplish feats that the scanners don’t even come close to. I realize that such trained dogs don’t come cheaply, but I also don’t think they’re even close to the cost of the scanners or the incredible budget I’m guessing TSA represents as it stands today.

    IF passengers would fail metal detector / wand test, or get targeted by such trained dogs, THEN, by all means, go ahead and offer them the invasive patdown / stripsearch.

    What is it that the bodyscanners (or invasive patdown) discovers that metal detector and trained dogs would not be able to detect? Nothing of any significance, I’d wager. On the opposite, traditional metal detectors and dogs should be able to detect far more than the body scanner and pat downs.

  • frostysnowman

    cjr, you said it better than I could have!

  • Annapolis2

    The biggest news aspect of this story is that the TSA has finally admitted that genital rubbing through clothing is an intended and acceptable part of the patdown. As far as I know, this is the first time that a passenger has explicitly stated that her genitals were touched and had the TSA specifically respond that the patdown was done correctly.

    To me, the Kafka-esque thing about this TSA nightmare is that we are required to submit to something without being told what it is they’re going to do to us. Susie Castillo was very explicit here – she had been through a patdown before, and the last time her genitals weren’t touched, and so she had absolutely no advance warning before feeling the screener’s hands on her private parts. The standard script that screeners speak does not say whether hands will touch penises and labia. Victims report that screeners stubbornly evade direct questioning about whether genital contact is involved. In fact, someone reported calling the TSA complaint line and using the anatomically correct terms for parts of the body that the screeners are touching. The phone representative told the caller his behavior in naming those parts was offensive. Now get this, government agents rubbing your labia or clitoris is perfectly acceptable. It’s using the words that is offensive. What is happening at airports can not be classified as anything other than a rogue agency reading “1984” like a how-to manual.

  • Sadie Cee

    It may not mean much to some people, but can we agree to cease using the euphemistic “patdown” and substitute a more accurate turn of phrase such as “groping,” “sexual interference,” or “sexual assault?” The actions described by Ms Castillo were not part of a “patdown.” I can truly understand how Ms Castillo must have felt. Her physical integrity was violated and that, to my mind, is unjustified and unforgivable.

    Making a connection in Detroit in *January 2003* from Houston to Toronto, the steel shank in my winter boots set off some sort of alarm. I was made to remove the boots which were taken away for inspection. While wanding me, the agent said “I may have to touch you in places where you do not want to be touched.” You would not believe the feeling of rage that swept over me. I was aghast and I resolved in that instant that if she touched me in any private place, I was going to have to hit her. I knew what the consequences would be, but I was prepared to be arrested. Fortunately, she did not have to carry out her warning, my boots were returned and I made it home. Eight years later and the fury is still fresh.

    There must be a better way! State-directed sexual interference is wrong!
    I will say it again – intelligence work is the answer. On a night like this when much of the world is rejoicing, it is evident that intelligence was a key factor in the discovery of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and his elimination.

  • Jasper
  • Jjweldon

    And yet you offer nothing but complaints. Genius.

  • Jjweldon

    Again, a solution would be very helpful.

  • Jjweldon

    She had a choice. Because you refuse to acknowledge it doesn’t change that,

  • Jjweldon

    And that still leaves some to be singled out for pat down.