Napolitano has no answer for airport screening failures, recent airline crew incident

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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On her Friday program, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviewed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, grilling the security boss about the ineffectiveness of intrusive airport screening measures and asking her to account for a frightening mid-air incident.

According to Napolitano, a JetBlue pilot’s bizarre mid-air flip-out on Tuesday was unusual. “You know, 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,” she said.

Mitchell interrupted and said in fact it wasn’t “highly unusual.” Responding, Napolitano avoided the accusation and instead offered praise for the passengers that restrained the man.

“That’s right — so three things happened that were good there,” Napolitano said. “One is the co-pilot got him out of the cockpit and the cockpit doors are armored. So, once they’re shut, he can’t get back in. 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. So they are to be congratulated for doing what they did.”

Mitchell then asked Napolitano to explain why airport screening procedures are less invasive in other countries, and to share if anything is being done to eliminate unnecessary hassles.  The DHS secretary said that there were some exemption measures soon to be put in place.

“Everything being done is because of constant continual attempts to try to do something to the United States and its aviation system,” she said. “So, that’s number one. Number two, we are already moving to we call it risk-based. We’re trying to say look, children under 12, we don’t have to worry so much about them. People over the age of 75, we’re going to begin exempting them.”

Napolitano added: “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 pre-check 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.”

Finally, Napolitano addressed intrusive pat-downs and much-debated “nude” X-ray scanner machines. The effectiveness of the machines was questioned earlier this year by a blogger who explained how to easily defeat the expensive devices’ detection capabilities. (SEE ALSO: Watch Napolitano find out there’s a video explaining how to beat scanners)

“I’m a [cancer] survivor myself,” Napolitano said. “I’ve had that surgery. So, 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 pat-downs seem unusual intrusive or they don’t want to go through the machine. So there’s a couple of things you can do. 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.”

“We all understand the particular difficulties, the sensitivities here,” said Napolitano. “We want to do the best we can with that.”

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