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.

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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.