TSA Agents Detained Nine-Year Old Boy Because He Had A Pacemaker
Chille Bergstrom was born with a rare heart condition. That's a security threat, apparently.
TSA agents at Phoenix' Sky Harbor International Airport detained nine-year old Chille Bergstrom and his family for more than an hour on Saturday, causing them to miss their flight, because they suspected the kid was hiding a bomb in his chest.
He wasn't, of course.
Chille was born with a rare heart condition that requires him to wear a pacemaker. The tiny medical implant literally keeps him alive, but it means that he can't go through the scanning equipment at airport security checkpoints. Instead, he has to ask for the alternative pat-down screening.
His family told KMSP in Minneapolis, where they live, that they asked for an alternative screening and presented paperwork detailing Chille's medical condition. When they did, TSA agents said they needed a special exemption they did not have, according to Ali Bergstrom, Chille's mother.
That's when things really got out of control. The Bergstroms say they were escorted into a private room with armed police officers and TSA supervisors surrounding them while Chille was subjected to what Ali called a lengthy and demeaning search.
Chille, who has been through airport security several times before, even asked why this screening was so different.
"One of the TSA agents told me they'd prevented terrorist attacks using nine-year-old boys with pacemakers and children before, so I laughed and said, 'Oh when?' At that point, the TSA agent became very quiet and said, 'Oh we're not at liberty to discuss this,'" Ali told KMSP.
The TSA probably doesn't have any record of that, because the TSA has never provided evidence that it stopped even a single terrorist attack in the 15 years since it was created.
The Bergstroms say they never got an apology for the way their son was treated, and the TSA told KMSP they are "reviewing" the incident.
By the time the TSA determined that Chille wasn't concealing a sophisticated explosive device in his chest, the family had missed their flight and ended up waiting 15 hours for the next one.
This isn't the first time Phoenix Sky Harbor has been the scene of TSA hijinks. In May, after a machine that scans checked bags for bombs broke down, agents moved some 3,000 pieces of luggage into the airport's parking lot before eventually putting them on planes to other airports to be scanned.
After that debacle, dozens of agents from Phoenix were reassigned to other airports because that's what passes for accountability inside the TSA.
More importantly, that incident caused city and airport officials to discuss booting the TSA out of Sky Harbor. Sal Diciccio, a Phoenix city councilman, says "the long wait lines, people missing flights, lost luggage and hours of waiting in line are not acceptable." Changing to private security would solve some of those problems and would improve customer service, he argues.
It's hard to imagine worse customer service than what you get with the TSA. A report from the House Homeland Security Commitee found that nearly half of all TSA agents committed some form of misconduct between 2013 and 2015.
Nothing has changed in the last two years. From nine-year old Chille Bergstrom to the 19-year old disabled woman who was bloodied and bruised by TSA agents in Memphis last month to the 90-year old woman who was strip searched last October, the list of humiliating abuses that do nothing to improve security goes on and on.
Private security firms might make mistakes too, but at least they can be fired and new, better firms can be hired to replace them.
Given his age, Chille doesn't know what it's like to go through an airport without experiencing the TSA's security theater. He should just accept this as the norm, like millions of Americans do every day.
Still, Chille told KMSP he had a message for the TSA: "Just be better at your job."
Since that's unlikely, make sure you review Reason TV's guide to dealing with the TSA before the next time you go to the airport.