BOWLING GREEN — A Kentucky mother said Wednesday federal airport screeners wouldn't tell her why they were frisking her 6-year-old daughter, whose treatment was captured on a YouTube video that has sparked outrage.
Selena Drexel said her family went through body scanners last month at the New Orleans airport, and her daughter Anna was selected for a pat-down. She asked why but wasn't given a reason.
Drexel said Wednesday her daughter began to cry after the search and said, "I'm sorry mommy. I don't know what I did wrong." Drexel said her daughter has since moved on and is showing no ill effects from the incident.
Drexel and her husband uploaded the video onto YouTube, where it generated huge interest. Network morning shows picked up the story, and the pat-down was sharply criticized by congressmen involved in national-security issues.
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The video shows a TSA agent patting down the child and explaining the procedure to the girl and her parents. The screener says she will use the back of her hands on sensitive areas and will "put my hand in the waistband."
Drexel said she believes security measures at airports have gone "overboard." She said the family has already changed plans for their next trip and will drive a car.
"I want to feel safe when I'm flying, but I don't want to feel like my rights have been violated," she said.
The Transportation Security Administration said in a statement the officer followed proper procedure but the agency is reviewing its screening policies for "low-risk populations, such as young passengers." The agency is exploring ways to "move beyond a one-size-fits-all system."
TSA screeners are instructed to use a "modified" pat down for children 12 and younger, according to the agency's Web site.
Drexel said she's concerned because she and her husband, Todd, a Bowling Green doctor, have taught their three daughters to be wary of strangers.
"To say it's OK for this group to do it but not OK for this other group, many children are going to have a very difficult time differentiating between who is OK and who is not," she said. "And I believe that this particular pat-down process sets children up to be vulnerable."
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security said he was "personally outraged and disgusted" over the girl's pat-down at Louis Armstrong International Airport.
"This conduct is in clear violation of TSA's explicit policy not to conduct thorough pat-downs on children under the age of 13," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, of Utah, said in a statement Wednesday.
The top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee said the head of the TSA assured him that reviewing pat-downs for children was a priority.
"I understand that TSA has an important job to do; however, subjecting our children to pat-downs must be a last resort," said Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson.
Drexel said she posted the video on YouTube because she wanted to influence debate over TSA's screening policy for children. She said she took down her posting on Saturday, but others have put the video up elsewhere.
Jennifer Mitchell, a child-safety advocate who watched the video, said the pat-down seemed "a little invasive."
Mitchell is co-president of Child Lures Prevention, a Shelburne, Vt., organization that works to prevent crimes against children, and recommended parents tell children before going to the airport that they might get a pat-down. But children should be told "the only reason it would be allowed is, the parents are right there, the clothes are not being removed, the parents are watching to make sure it's done OK," Mitchell said.
Martin Macpherson, the director of the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, said he is not aware of instances when terrorists have used children as young as six in an attack.