Free Minds & Free Markets

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.

Jack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/NewscomJack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/NewscomTSA 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.

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  • Chipwooder||

    "Oh, we're not at liberty to discuss this"

    Priceless. I reckon someone should get their ass kicked saying something like that.

  • Fruit Sushi 2 Go||

    Waiting for the day one of them says, "you wouldn't understand, you stupid rube." The link with progressive boot licking would be unmistakable at that point.

  • Hugh Akston||

    If you are under the impression that the TSA is some kind of progressive agency staffed by elitist beltway insiders, you clearly haven't been on a plane in the past 15 years.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    No, it's staffed by the kind of swinish bureaucrats that Progressive governments produce in job lots, the way rotting wood produces fungus.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    What have you got against fungus?

    It actually performs a useful function in the natural world.

  • Zeb||

    It's run by swinish bureaucrats. It's staffed by idiots who can't cut is as real cops. If they didn't make it as TSA agents, they'd probably be bus drivers or something.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    Why would you insult bus drivers like that? Or any other skilled or unskilled employment?

    Seriously, there is nothing lower than a TSA agent ... nothing. Okay, maybe WW II concentration camp guards who kept Japanese-Americans from escaping.

    Did I mention that I have had my own unpleasant experience with these fascists?

  • KDN||

    Seriously, there is nothing lower than a TSA agent ... nothing.

    I take it you have never met a big city (or shore town) meter-maid.

  • Riven||

    I don't understand why you'd even bring it up if you're "not at liberty to discuss this."

    It's like telling someone you have a really good secret, but you can't tell them--sorry!

  • sarcasmic||

    Because they are liars who lie to feel important.

  • Chipwooder||

    And who lie to justify their useless jobs

  • Riven||

    That seems about right. I haven't flown since major airports started implementing body scanners, so I haven't had any personal interactions with these brave men and women.

  • Hugh Akston||

    That's got to be tough to do when they look in the mirror every morning.

  • ||

    Because they think it makes them look mysterious and cool.

  • JoblessBoss||

    Is that a terrified person about to get their face drilled, or am I interpreting that wrong? I don't know all the emojicons these days, but if I'm seeing that right, it's amazing.

  • Ted S.||

    If they ever prevented a terrorist attack, they'd be holding press conferences on prime time network TV.

  • Guy Behind the Guy, Jr.||

    The human heart has four chambers. Four. Terrorists could be storing bomb-making materials in those chambers!

  • ||

    What is that, some kind of assault heart?! Nobody needs four chambers!!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.

  • Riven||

    Look, we need to have a national conversation about common sense heart reforms.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Not when other children (who may also be terrorists) are hungry in this country.

  • Agammamon||

    That's why we need thermobaric bombs - they suck the air out of those chambers!

  • WTF||

    How do we know that while they are concentrating on pacemaker chest bombs, that people aren't hiding bombs up their butts, the way prisoners conceal things? Truly effective security would entail rectal exams and pre-flight high-colonic enemas.

  • Juvenile Bluster||

    Oooh, let me guess what the TSA's eventual response will be.

    "We have investigated the matter and determined that our officers acted in accordance with our regulations. Passengers can call ahead of time to be treated like human beings learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation".

  • colorblindkid||

    How do you pronounce Chille? Chill? Chilly? Chilé?

  • sarcasmic||


  • WTF||

    "Chile" as in "honey chile".

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    Too chilly.

  • ||

    The "Ch" is hard, so it sounds not unlike Killer.

  • Fist of Etiquette||


  • kinnath||

    For the children . . .

  • Robert||

    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.

    That one must've gotten by me. So to prevent bombs from blowing up these planes, they put the luggage on other planes.

  • Riven||


  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What did you want them to do? Fly the scanning machines to the luggage? Use your head.

  • wagnert in atlanta||

    Well, at least it foiled the suicide bombers. Right? And everybody's luggage ended up God knows where.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    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?'...

    Get a load of Edwina Snowden over here, trying to give away all our anti-terror secrets to the terrorists.

  • Adans smith||

    The TSA has the most retarded people in the country working for them. And that says something when you look at the other government departments. In their defense,the others are just plain evil.

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    His family told KMSP in Minneapolis, where they live, that they asked for an alternative screening and presented paperwork detailing Chille's medical condition.

    Ah, yes. Clearly a trick to get the TSA to overlook the bombs planted in their son's chest. The professionals at the TSA would never fall for that.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    "Papers, please"

  • SimonD||

    I'd actually like to know what the kid's heart condition is (having severe heart defects myself, I have an obvious interest). One of the linked articles said he had something called Golden Hars Syndrome, but there's no such thing on wiki. There is a Goldenhar Syndrome, but it's not cardiac in nature.

    I know that it's not the important part of the story, and I don't doubt the child has defects, but if the genius reporter-type doesn't know, he (or she) should just not mention it.

  • Guy Behind the Guy, Jr.||

    Why don't they just put everyone on a no-fly list? Think about how safe our airplanes and airports would be then!

  • Riven||

    The constant clamoring for safety has always confused me. Don't people realize that nothing/nowhere is ever absolutely safe?

  • ||


  • Ron||

    well not yet and if the rethugians would get out of the way we could finally implement proper regulations

  • Fist of Etiquette||


  • kinnath||

    From an El Al pilot: "You Americans are stupid. You look for weapons. We look for terrorists."

  • kinnath||

    wrong fucking place :-(

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    We look for spam instead of for spammers.

  • kinnath||

    nice recovery

  • ||

    I reported him as spam.

  • kinnath||


  • ||

    No, the metaphor is surprisingly apt and accurate.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I read a few years ago a great quote about the TSA that I think was from the Israelis' head of air security. His comment was that the U.S. doesn't have a system to provide air security. It has a system to bother people.

    And that's really the long and short of it. The TSA isn't there to make the flying public secure. They're there to provide the illusion of such security. If people have to go through enough hoops to get on their plane, they assume that it must be doing something to keep them safer.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    El Al screening is pretty good. The first time I went to Israel I was interrogated for about thirty minutes by a tag team of professional interrogators with IQs that were at least 2, maybe 3, SD higher than the mean for TSA agents. I had never been interrogated by professionals before or since. Their technique was impressive, though annoyingly intrusive. They obviously knew beforehand that I had lived in the Middle East and still traveled there on occasion. They knew that I had obtained my ticket under atypical circumstances and had traveled a very unusual itinerary that had been changed to travel to Israel at the last minute. They knew I wasn't a tourist. I really couldn't blame them for the 3rd degree treatment, but did I mention that it was intrusive? Eventually I decided that, if they insisted that I tell them the story of my life, I might as well enjoy telling them the story of my life. Since then, however, I've never had any more trouble with an El Al flight than with any other.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    On second thought, make that at least 3, maybe 4, SD higher than the mean for TSA agents. I didn't mean to insult the El Al security interrogators.

  • Chipwooder||

    Security theater, as they say

  • Illocust||

    They shouldn't have told the TSA about the pace maker. I've got rods of metal running up and down my spine. If I don't bring it up, the TSA can't tell. Go through the normal check, and if they catch you present your paperwork.

  • Florida Hipster||

    Your rods are probably titanium. I don't think they show up a metal detector. PMare made from steel and are close to the skin, so they probably do trip the detector.

  • kinnath||

    My wife's artificial knees trip the metal detectors. They are a combination of titanium and ceramic if I recall correctly.

  • dantheserene||

    I have a titanium rod in my leg and a titanium implant in my jaw. They are non-ferrous and too deep for a surface scan or pat down, so there is no way find them short of an actual X-ray.

  • ||

    This is some exceptional, high tech EUPHEMISM!-ry here. And oddly enough, endorsed by Stryker.

  • Illocust||

    Not technically true. Depending on sensitivity they can pick up titanium. I've set off metal detectors in Italian airports because of them. Also, pace makers are generally made from titanium as well, and my bars are directly under the skin too (you can actually see their outline when looking at my back).

    I stand by my advice. Try to go through the security without telling them. If you get caught, present paperwork at that airport from then on out. If you don't, you've just saved yourself tons of time.

  • Florida Hipster||

    I was mistaken. I thought the PM cases were stainless. I didn't know titanium showed up on metal detectors.

  • straffinrun||

    Sounds like you need a drink. ;)

  • Florida Hipster||

    You pouring?

  • Rhywun||

    I have rods in one arm that don't set off any detectors.

  • SugarFree||

    The screw they couldn't get out of my hip never set them off, but it's pretty deep.

  • Ron||

    yes but i don't think you want a pace maker to go through a device that can screw up its timing

  • Florida Hipster||

    Just put it back to top dead center. You'll be fine.
    /crossing the lingo

  • Bob Straub||

    I have a pacemaker. The old-style metal detectors use strong magnetic fields. The newer, full body scanners use X-rays and are safe for pacemakers. Magnetic fields are the way that pacemakers are programmed, there being no wired connections to them from the outside. Wearers do not have the ability to do anything to their pacemakers except screw them up by exposing themselves to magnetic fields. Usually a pacemaker will restore itself to its previous state after exposure to a magnetic field, but there's no guarantee, as far as I know. Going through a metal detector with one, hoping not to be challenged, is taking a chance that I would not.

    I don't understand why the kid was detained and searched so thoroughly. I'm not a frequent flyer but I go through airport security a few times a year. I've never been interrogated, but I have been through the standard pat-down many times. Most TSA people are polite, just doing their jobs. They probably don't think about why they're doing them as much as H&R people do.

    It saddens me that there is no end of these security measures in sight. I doubt if anyone knows what the criteria would be for it all to end.

  • Riven||

    I had rods through my nipples and you don't see me bragging about not setting off the metal detector.

  • W. Chipper Dove||

    I have adamantium claws in my hands, and have never been called out for them. Oh, wait! I don't fly. Never mind.

  • GroundTruth||

    At what point does the general public realize that they have been had?

    bin Laden must be smiling from ear to ear to see that for the cost of a half million bucks and 19 men, he brought the US to its knees.

  • ||

    At what point does the general public realize that they have been had?

    It'll happen right after people figure out how economics works and demand an end to social security, medicaid, and medicare.

  • ||

    So, you know, I'm thinking...six months, tops.

  • Hamster of Doom||


  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    bin Laden must be smiling

    So much this. Billions upon billions of dollars spent on a "problem" that solved itself not 30 minutes after the first jet hit the tower. Cowardice, not terrorism, has turned this country into a police state.

  • ||

    Totally Shitty Assholes

    I came up with that myself.

  • ||

    Clever, Jim. You can now retire your illustrious H&R posting career with that one.)

  • ||

    I started a meme (the "also, fried chicken") a long time ago, so I'm content with my historical contribution to the site.

  • The Fusionist||

    You know who else started a meme?

  • Guy Behind the Guy, Jr.||

    The Bee Gees started a joke which started the whole world crying, that's all I know.

  • ||

    I remember.-) You are but an irreplaceable thread in the magnificent tapestry that springs forth from the H&R loom.

    And loom large, you do.)

  • ||

    I'm still not going to blow you.

  • ||

    Dr. ZG's got that covered.-D

  • kinnath||

    Thousands Standing Around

  • ||

    Way to just come in and breezily one-up me, dick.

  • kinnath||

    Courtesy of my brother who came through security over the weekend.

  • Chipwooder||

    It's a classic. My mother was still a flight attendant for a few years after 9/11, and she always called them Thousands Standing Around.

  • dschwar||

    The problem is, they don't stand around where the passengers can see them and demand that more check-in lines be opened.

  • straffinrun||

    I liked their original "Ministry for State Security".

  • Rhywun||

    Whatever happened to "Total Information Awareness". I remember they quietly canned that because of the ugly optics but I think we all know it's still around under some top-secret name and totally keeping us safe so WTF is TSA even doing?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "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."

    That's not really important.

    What's really important is that an additional bunch of unionized federal government employees were created so as to funnel more campaign contributions to the Democratic party and expand the donkey party constituency base.

  • Timrekgrun||

    I too have a congenital heart defect and thus a pacemaker. I've also flown a lot having recently lived in Europe. While I am told not to go through the standard door-way style metal detectors, the scanners are safe for pacemakers. Does Phoenix not have that option? Sure I love being groped by idiot thugs who think they're the next person to hunt down Jason Bourne as much as the next guy, but it sounds like both the parents and TSA people were ill-informed. Not defending the TSA here, but unless there's a new pacemaker type that is sensitive to these new scanners as well there should not have been a problem.

  • Agammamon||

    The scanner would have made no difference. It only scans *externally*. These guys thought the kid had a bomb planted in his chest.

  • Agammamon||

    Loo, did the kid have a *government* certification verifying the existence of a pacemaker? Not a doctor's note, something official? Because TSA guidelines clearly state that an official government certificate is necessary to fly with a medical device.

    if he didn't, then they followed procedure - good on them.

    What's that? There's no such thing as a government medical device certification? That's not the TSA's problem pal. They wrote their procedure, they followed their procedure. If there are any deficiencies then its up to *that* agency to correct them - not the TSA.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Useless. Fucktards.

    Even if they weren't too stupid to work at the airport McDonald's, much less "security," this is the kind of shit that happens when incompetent morons mindlessly enforce cookie-cutter one size fits all rules instead of using their fucking judgement. Although now that I think about it, if these mouth breathers were allowed to use their judgement, they probably would have shot the kid and his parents, so maybe it's better that they just mindlessly follow procedure instead.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Too Stupid Assholes.

  • rageon||

    "TSA hijinks"? TSA atrocities more like.


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