DHS Secretary Napolitano on TSA Screenings

“A lot of women are complaining about … the way they’re handled. Breast cancer survivors, specifically at Logan Airport, I should say repeatedly. People are writing to me, they’re Tweeting. There’s a whole social media concern about the way breast cancer survivors–those who have had replacement surgery–are handled by the TSA.” — MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell

“I’m a survivor myself. I’ve had that surgery. I know what they’re talking about. We’ve been working with the cancer groups and other groups of people.” — DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Friday. In what appears to have been originally intended as a discussion about cyber-security, Mitchell quickly redirected the discussion to the recent incident where a mentally unbalanced pilot threatened the safety of an aircraft. He was restrained by off-duty law enforcement who fortunately were among the passengers en route to Las Vegas. Mitchell then moved to questions about intrusive TSA “screenings.”

Mitchell, herself a breast cancer survivor, attempted to press Napolitano on the issues of pointless shoe-removals and liquid restrictions, as well as the humiliating and intrusive searches. The manner in which Napolitano victim-blames –“You can always call ahead,” etc. — and often completely avoids answering a straightforward question — i.e. about shoes — would be comical if the TSA were not such an affront to Americans’ rights.  The full transcript appears below; Mitchell’s TSA-related questions and Napolitano’s evasiveness and non-responses are highlighted in bold font.

>> Mayhem in the skies. and the threat of cyberattacks. on that front, proposed legislation would require owners and operators of critical facilities to notify homeland security at the first sign of hacking. senator john mccain is raising questions of top intelligence officials about homeland’s ability to handle the growing cyberthreat.

>> do you agree that he secretary panetta and the fbi have said that cyberattacks may soon be the number one threats to the united states ?

>> absolutely, senator.

>> so then what’s the logic in providing the overall authority to the department of homeland security ? anyone who has been through an airport as i do regularly as most of us do have no confidence in the technological capabilities of the department of homeland security . in fact, as an example, nothing has changed as far as airport security is concerned since probably september 12th , 2011 .

>> joining me is janet napolitano . madame secretary, first, can you respond to john mccain ‘s criticism at this armed services hearing just this week?

>> well, i think it’s unfortunate because it’s wrong. the plain fact of the matter is that the tsa has managed to keep aviation safe in the decade following the attacks of 9/11 and technological improvements are being made all the time. moreover, i think that the senator didn’t understand that the department of homeland security is already performing major functions in the cybersecurity arena. what we’re talking about now, however, is having the congress help d.o.d., dhs, the department of homeland security , all of us better protect the cybersecurity networks of the united states .

>> there are competing bills in congress right now. senator mccain believes it should be voluntary. other legislation, the administration’s legislation would be a requirement. there are concerns that have been raised about just the intrusive quality of those requirements on corporations. and also the privacy issues.

>> i this i there’s been a lot of misinformation about that.

>> please clarify.

>> the lieberman-collins bill is a bipartisan bill that the celebration support. if you in the kind of infrastructure everybody has to rely upon, you need to work with us to raise and vin certain base level performance standards. you could figure out how you meet them. that’s left to the market to determine. but when you are in that core critical infrastructure arena, there are certain responsibilities that need to be attained.

>> now, i do also want to ask you about the a. let’s also raise the question, i know it’s the faa that is responsible primarily for the cockpit crews but there have been a number of incidents all of us who go through airports get you know, all kinds of screening fairly invasive screening. and we are checked. we take our clothes off. we take our shoes off. we carry little bottles rather than the more convenient sized bottles. we go through all of this and a co-pilot is able to have a complete psychological meltdown by all accounts without any kind of impediment to his being in the cockpit. that is a threat to the passengers. so that becomes a threat, a homeland threat. what more should be done regarding flight crews?

>> in this instance, i think we can take some small comfort in the fact that this is a highly unusual occurrence and i think that’s one of the reasons.

>> there have been two occurrences, madame secretary, the flight attendant.

>> let me play the tape to sort of bring it home . take a look at what happened there because the extraordinary quality of that the struggle really brings home you know, just how close they came. if there had not been passengers trained, former police officers going to a security in las vegas , who knows who would have taken the lead. although more passengers seem to be willing to stand up to it. that is noteworthy and praise worthy. but who knows whether it’s a small flight with elderly people , they said i’ve heard them say it was very, very difficult to hold that man down.

>> right.

>> for all the time they had to hold him down because he kept trying to break loose.

>> that’s right. so three things happened that were good there. one is the co-pilot got him out of the cockpit and the cockpit doors are armored. once they’re shut, he can’t get back in.

>> that’s a major improvement.

>> secondly, flight crew training is much more robust than it has ever been. from a security standpoint. and then third, and you mentioned it yourself, the passengers understanding. they have a role to play here and have played it in the past in other situations. think are to be congratulated for doing what they did.

>> i want to ask you about tsa. are there going to be changes in the rules? are there ways we can not be taking off our shoes?

>> there’s no requirement in many foreign airports that people take off their shoes. it is a lot looser and maybe that’s not a good thing but it does seem as though with summer travel approaching, there ought to be better ways now that we have more and more of these x-ray machines.

>> right. a couple —

>> we don’t have to go through this process.

>> one is, first of all, not all airports in the world face the same threats we face. everything being done is because of constant continual attempts to try do something to the united states and its aviation system . that’s number one. number two, we are already moving to we call it risk based. we’re trying to say look, children under 1, we don’t have to worry so much about them. people over the age of 75, we’re going to begin exempting them. we’re beginning to pilot active duty military being able to go through. so slowly but surely those changes are being made. and in addition, people now are going to be able to sign up for global entry if they’re international passengers or precheck if they’re domestic. this is where you supply information ahead of time. you get a biometric card and it allows you to go through in a more expedited fashion.

>> speaking of biometric cards, point where women have been calling me and writing to me and i have not experienced this personally, but women jokingly, debbie wasserman schultz at the gridiron the other night talked about her mastectomy, breast cancer survivor andsley said her new breasts are practically real as any tsa official can tell you but a lot of women are complaining about the kind of — the way they’re handled. breast cancer survivors specifically at logan airport i should say repeatedly. people are writing to me, they’re tweeting. there’s a whole social media concern about the way breast cancer survivors, those who have had replacement surgery are handled by the tsa.

>> i’m a survivor myself. i’ve had that surgery. i know what they’re talking about. we’ve been working with the cancer groups and other groups of people who have, say, for example, colostomy bags or other medical devices or things that make the patdowns seem unusuallily intrusive or they don’t want to go through the machine. you can always call ahead of time and arrange for a separate screening. you can always advise the attendant right at the gate about your situation. you have certain rights as a passenger. we’re looking to put passenger advocates in the airports themselves to work with passengers who have special needs . so we all understand the particular difficulties, the sensitivities here. we want to do the best we can with that.

>> thank you very much.

>> you bet.

>> thank you very much for being here too.

>> you bet.

>> it’s always a treat.