In December two old ladies alleged that TSA screeners made them take their clothes off and touched them on their medical devices (a colostomy bag and a back brace; the latter of which was taken from its owner and scanned, like a piece of luggage).
Initially, the TSA denied that screeners at JFK Airport in New York did a single thing wrong. "We truly regret these passengers feel they had a bad screening experience," TSA flack Bob Burns wrote on the agency's blog back in December.
This counts as an official statement, even if it seems the only thing the TSA Blog does is rebut Drudge headlines and post pictures of the scary things stupid travelers try to transport in their carry-ons (ninja stars! spearguns! the occasional real gun!). Burns acknowledged that it was weird that 85-year-old Lenore Zimmerman was made to take off her back brace, but then said it was her fault because "our officers were told that the passenger was wearing a money belt." Burns then dedicated half a paragraph to explaining the differences between money belts and back braces, because you are an idiot.
Burns declined to offer a fake apology to 89-year-old Ruth Sherman, who claims she was made to take off her pants so that TSA screeners could touch her colostomy bag, perhaps to make sure that it was really a device for collecting the poor woman's shit, and not a bomb.
In both cases, the TSA initially said that "screening procedures were followed," and categorically denied that either woman was strip-searched. In a letter that regular people were not meant to see, the agency has walked back the first claim, while maintaining that the two old woman voluntarily took off their clothes:
In a letter obtained by the New York Daily News, the Homeland Security Department acknowledges that screeners violated standard practice in their treatment of the ailing octogenarians last November.
Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Betsy Markey concedes to state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) that Sherman was forced to show security agents her colostomy bag — a violation of policy.
"It is not standard operating procedure for colostomy devices to be visually inspected, and [the Transportation Security Administration\] apologizes for this employee's action," Markey wrote.
The letter says that Sherman, who uses a wheelchair, was escorted into a private area after she voluntarily lowered her pants to show screeners the device.
In the private room, she was patted down and told to show agents the colostomy bag, the letter says.
Markey still maintained that the Florida-based Sherman was never asked to remove her clothing.
"It is not standard operating procedure for colostomy devices to be visually inspected, and [the Transportation Security Administration] apologizes for this employee's action," Markey wrote.
Zimmerman was told she had to take off her back brace for it to be screened. That meant lowering her pants and raising her shirt, which the TSA letter says she did "voluntarily." Funny how language works, isn't it?
Both women responded by alleging that the TSA is still lying. "They asked me to pull my sweatpants down, and now they're not telling you the truth," Sherman told the Daily News. "They're lying," Zimmerman said. "I don't have a problem with [screeners checking] the back brace. I have a problem with being strip-searched."
More on the TSA's record of never doing anything wrong. And speaking of strip searches!